If you follow the local Collier County news, you are, most likely, aware of the conversations concerning the growing need for more and more taxpayer dollars to fund long delayed, vitally necessary infrastructure projects.

We are being told of the options available to raise the needed dollars. Local Option sales tax, increased gas tax, jack up impact fees, franchise fees, new property taxes, storm water fees, alternative funding fees, conservation fees, etc.

We are given reasons such as the ’07 recession, hurricanes, brush fires, population growth etc. It is not my intention to question the need for additional funding or the reasons for the need. As a Commissioner, serving on the board of the independent North Collier Fire Control and Rescue District (NCFD), I can attest that the costs associated with providing emergency services are not diminishing. They are, in fact, surging forward and challenging our financial stability.

I am digging for opportunities to trim expenses and am coming to realize that such opportunities are few. When the NCFD was incorporated in 1961, we had a population of less than ten thousand people, no high rises, no hospitals, no schools, no memory care units, no Ritz, no senior living centers. Today, we have four hospitals, eighty one high rises, twenty one schools, twenty four assisted living centers and more than one hundred and forty thousand people just to mention a few changes.

In addition to our original fire fighting responsibilities, we have taken on, since 1961, services that would not have been imagined in 1961. Examples such as emergency medical services including advanced life support; technical rescue including confined space/structural collapse; hazardous materials including chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear defense; dive and beach/marine rescue; active shooter incidents and a host of other services. These are examples of the “mission creep” that the men and women of the NCFD have willingly assumed over the years, and who excel at delivering these services.

Because these services are provided by well-trained, skilled fire fighters, it should be understood that each of the services requires specialized training. Intense on-going training if skill levels are to be maintained. Providing these services, and the training, grows more costly each year. So, it makes sense for me, an elected official responsible for efficient use of tax payers dollars, to review these services in an effort to determine which of them can be eliminated. With each I am confronted with a dilemma. If we don’t provide these services, who will? Checkmate! Today’s NCFD is uniquely positioned, and qualified, to provide these services.

If we, NCFD, are to continue providing a high level of all hazards services to our residents, hospitals, schools, assisted living centers and businesses we will need the funding required. Also required, on the part of the NCFD board of commissioners, is a constant pressure applied to staff to continue seeking ways by which to reduce costs. It would be irresponsible to do otherwise.

This issue is being addressed by the NCFD board, and options are being developed for voter consideration. I can say that, in my opinion, the issue of funding services will require a longer term approach than simply year to year budget crisis management.

In taking a longer term approach, it is worth considering that, although the human and physical make up of the NCFD has radically changed since 1961, the method of funding and the governance has not. I will expound on this reality in future commentaries.

The Board of Fire Commissioners
North Collier Fire Control and Rescue District