Voters could be asked as soon as next year whether they want to merge the two largest fire districts in Collier County.
But a more realistic timeline might not put the question to a ballot until November 2020, said Jeff Page, chairman of the Greater Naples Fire Rescue District.
“To try to include it in 2018, the ballot will be crowded,” Page said. “But some members think we might be able to do it.”
Both Greater Naples and the North Collier Fire Control and Rescue District are set to consider a proposal to begin working on the merger:
- Greater Naples is set to meet at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at its headquarters at 14575 Collier Blvd., just north of Vanderbilt Beach Road.
- North Collier is scheduled to meet at 9 a.m. Thursday at its headquarters at 1885 Veterans Park Drive, just east of Goodlette-Frank Road and just south of Immokalee Road.
A task force of fire commissioners, firefighters, paramedics, union representatives and a few residents has proposed the two districts merge by 2020.
If approved by both boards, the districts would begin studying:
- The cost of bringing salaries in line.
- Any savings from merging administrations.
- Whether the new district would operate under one tax rate.
Eventually, they would have to decide when to ask voters in a referendum to push the merger forward.
It’s less a question of whether to ask voters than when to ask them, said North Collier Chairman Norm Feder.
“We’re still discussing that through the task force, and we’re still evaluating how to proceed,” Feder said.
Collier County voters have been asked to approve fire district mergers in either straw ballots or binding resolutions in almost every election since 2010. All of them have been approved.
In 2014, voters combined the North Naples and Big Corkscrew Island fire districts into North Collier, and they merged the East Naples and Golden Gate fire districts into Greater Naples.
Greater Naples since has taken over operations of the Isles of Capri and Ochopee fire districts. North Collier has started talks with the Immokalee Fire District to combine a number of administrative services such as payroll, building inspections and training.
There were seven fire districts in the unincorporated county just three years ago. Now there are three.
Last year, voters approved another straw ballot, 64 percent to 36 percent, saying they would like the three to become one.
Collier commissioners oversee all the ambulances and training of paramedics in the county under the county’s Emergency Medical Services department.
Commissioners are planning to meet with representatives of the three fire districts next spring or summer to talk about turning the ambulances over to a consolidated countywide fire district, Commissioner Burt Saunders said.
“The county has urbanized over the last 20 years, so it’s prudent to take a look at the best way to provide EMS,” Saunders said. “The question for the fire districts is: Is there greater efficiency in additional mergers? For the county, should EMS be a part of that fire service?”
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