Botana Wants to Merge FMB, Bonita Fire Districts

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Florida State Representative Adam Botana plans to author a local Bill that would merge the Fort Myers Beach Fire District into Bonita Springs. The goal of the merger, he says, would be to save taxpayer money by consolidating redundant positions. Botana says this will not affect coverage on the beach in any way.

Botana called Fort Myers Beach Fire Chief Scott Wirth, Bonita Springs Fire Chief Gregory DeWitt and Fort Myers Beach Mayor Dan Allers this past Friday to alert them this was coming and to seek their support. Both fire districts then notified their staffs about the possible merger.

There are 17 separate fire districts in Lee County. Across the state there are only four other counties with more than one fire district. The Florida State Legislature has the power to dissolve or merge special districts. This merger would start with a local Bill that Botana plans to propose by October 16th. The local delegation of House and Senate members would then hear public input and vote on Botana’s Bill at its meeting on October 30th at Florida Southwestern State College on College Parkway in Fort Myers. If more than 50% of the delegation approve the Bill, it goes through the committee process in the House. If it comes out of committee, the full House then Senate would then vote on the Bill before it goes to the Governor.

The Florida delegation is chaired by Jenna Persons-Mulicka and includes Botana, Kathleen Passidomo, Mike Giallombardo, Jonathan Martin, Spencer Roach, Ben Albritton and Tiffany Esposito. The October 30th meeting is open to the public and streamed live. You can see the agenda HERE.

Botana told Beach Talk Radio News on Monday that “this has been coming for a long time.” He mentioned there being some issues with the number of Fire Chiefs on Fort Myers Beach (3 in recent years), the district’s plan to build a new training tower and he said there were some issues with the financials, but he was not specific. Botana said the storm brought things into perspective.

Both the Fort Myers Beach Fire District and the Bonita Fire District have 5 elected commissioners. If the two departments are merged, a new election would need to be held to elect 5 new Commissioners in which anyone from either municipality could run. Botana said, “We need to get rid of some of these special districts. We are a state of limited government.”

Fort Myers Beach Fire District now has 45 full-time employees and 1 part-time employee with several open positions. The Fort Myers Beach Fire District operating budget is $14.3 Million with reserves of $14.35 Million (reserves include insurance proceeds to fund replacement items lost during Hurricane Ian).

Bonita Springs Fire is staffed by 96 fire suppression personnel, including 61 paramedics and 35 emergency medical technicians. Of the 119 full-time personnel, 23 are 40-hour employees. The District also employs one part-time administrative position and has a budget of $29 Million.

Both Fort Myers Beach and Bonita Springs are their own taxing districts. It’s unknown how much money would be saved from a merger of the two districts. According to figures from the Lee County appraiser’s office, property value’s on Fort Myers Beach declined about 40% due to Hurricane Ian. That translated into $6 million less for the fire district. Despite the decline in property value’s, the Fire District Board held firm on the millage rate for 2023-2024 at $2.9851 per $1,000 of assessed property valuation.

Fort Myers Beach Fire Chief Scott Wirth says Botana never called him to discuss the merger before springing it on him this past Friday at 5:00. Wirth wondered why Botana didn’t try to meet with him and Chief DeWitt in Bonita Springs first to discuss merger options. “I’m not opposed to a more efficient operation,” Wirth told Beach Talk Radio News Monday. Wirth plans to speak at the October 30th local delegation meeting and propose a study be done to determine if a merger is better for both communities and if it actually saves taxpayer dollars. Wirth said there’s a Florida Statute that says imposed mergers must include a plan. He also admitted the Legislature doesn’t have to follow that statute and has the power to impose a merger.

The state recently allocated $14 million to the Fort Myers Beach Fire Control District to help the district recover from Hurricane Ian. The Botana plan will not have any impact on that money.

Part of Botana’s Bill will also include dissolving the Fort Myers Beach Mosquito District and moving that over to Lee County. The Fort Myers Beach Mosquito Board lost its building in Hurricane Ian and now meets in a trailer. The board also includes two members from the same family which Botana was critical of.

Botana must submit the paperwork for his Bill by October 16th for the local delegation to consider it on the 30th.

When asked if this could lead to a Bill to try to dissolve the Town of Fort Myers Beach and turn the beach back over to Lee County, Botana said “absolutely not.” He had high praise for the job the Fort Myers Beach Town Council is doing. He did say he would like to see the rebuild move along quicker.

17 COMMENTS

  1. I smell a variety if fishy sends.
    1. Proposing this without much previous discussions with both departments, all employees not just Chiefs and only Chiefs “after his plan is already set without input reeks of politics at it’s usual worst. First discuss either departments, then taxpayers who are effected therewith that input and lots of data make an amended proposal based thereon .
    2. We will lose our ambulances
    3. Some of Bonita was hit really hard also
    4. This should be part of a statewide or county wide study all at once. I’m thinking they/he are trying to bolster BS with high end FMB dollars, think of buildings proposed now of large scope and that “cottages” will be replaced with high end high dollar buildings so our tax bade down the road will be significantly more than equivalent properties and lower end properties in parts of Bonita.
    I’m willing to consider well thought out, openly vetted, proposals with hard numbers, employee merging details including where assigned, pay scales etc. This is incomplete, half assed in the way it is presented, and completely out of line when proposed for only 2 districts in the county and coming out if no where. Do your due diligence FIRST, be fair by studying ALL county districts then and only then make a proposal with complete details.
    The bottom line is: if this makes it out of delegation/committee we need to make our voices heard wn masses, loud and clear. I know of at least one taxpayer that remembers stuff like this for decades. I will not be voting for this gentleman for any office for years to come as sneaky equates to NOT TRUSTWORTHY in my book

  2. How much representation would FMB receive when time to elect the Fire Commissioner’s?
    Bonita has many more registered voters than FMB.
    There have been several professional studies done regarding consolidation of the Lee County Fire Districts, not any of them suggested a savings.
    The FMB Fire Control District has one of two ALS Transport (ambulance)
    Licenses in Lee County, Bonita Springs is not the second one !
    This smells like a money grab to me!
    I can attest to the professionalism of the men and women of the Ft Myers Beach Fire Control District.
    Respectfully,
    Tom

  3. Bad timing, obviously in season heavy traffic from Publix to. Orth Bridge. Construction has started on South Bridge, so during season traffic will be jammed trading north and south. BFD isn’t going to be of help. Marguritaville is just opening, how is that going to affect traffic.
    1. Come back with researched plan in 3 years, now is not the time
    2. So Fire Chiefs just being contacted…..bad play
    3. Due to #2, obvious little research done
    4. Sounds like a Politician talking.pie in the sky plans…..come back with objective facts

  4. I believe the Fort Myers Beach Fire District includes the area up to Summerlin Road, not just FMB on Estero Island. I think the scope of this merger idea is larger than Botana’s plan. What do our Lee County Commissioners have to say about this idea?

  5. Follow the money! Adam wants the $14M that was just awarded by the state and the recently appraised $13M Topps property that the district paid $3.95M for. Thats a better than a 325% return on investment in less than 4 years! What are Adams returns on investment ? A $26M training tower is a total fabrication(lie) on Adams part. Why not combine Sanibel and Captiva? The politicians are not being truthful, as usual. A county wide fire department, which I support, would save real money. This won’t. Certainly not the $9M that FMB fire accomplished.

    • It’s been tried over and over again in Florida, and it doesn’t work. Countywide means a public safety empire – complete with a new big building full of suits who fight no fires and save no lives.

  6. Wow, Botana never called or discussed his plan with either fire chief?! Wouldn’t you want input from both districts before you go pushing “your” plan on both communities? What kind of qualifications does Mr. Botana have to make him an expert in how fire districts operate?

  7. How about a Lee County Fire District? If combining FMB and Bonita Fire Depts save so much why not combine all the fire departments? Why not combine all law enforcement? How about combining all municipal services?

    • Law enforcement IS combined. Each city (Ft. Myers, Cape Coral, Sanibel have their own Departments and the rest of the county is run by LCSO. Ft. Myers, Cape and Sanibel also have their own FD’s and the rest of the county is split into 14 different fire districts. Writing is on the wall……

  8. FMBFD has dedicated folks who work really hard to ensure our safety. Looking for efficiency with a merger is in no way a knock at either the Commissioners or the firefighters, EMT’s and the Life Safety personnel.

  9. Finally, a decision we can all rally around. This is a step in the right direction for the city’s residents AND for a town that needs this important lifeline on expenses given the loss of property values on the island.

  10. THANK GOD a for some Sanity –
    FMB Fire Dept is a money Pit that would fail and business cost / benefit analysis.
    – Please SHRINK the size and scope of Government at every level-

    • Just FYI….the Fire Department is not a business to make money. It is a service to protect lives and property. And its yearly cost to residents is probably less than their cell phone/internet costs…..but you never hear anyone complain about those. And, they come within 4-6 minutes when called for help. The cable company sure doesn’t do that! Unfortunately, some people don’t realize how important that is until they need assistance themselves. Be careful what you wish for!

      • That department has a history of serious problems – needless spending, racist treatment of a black firefighter, incompetent chiefs, poorly planned purchases, wasted equipment, constant turnovers at the top,
        at one time the second highest fire district tax among the 19 districts.
        I know because I broke stories on many of those problems.
        History, not mindless cheerleading, should factor in to any discussions of its future.

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