Thursday, January 16, 2014

Article in Englewood Sun re. Fire Service

Englewood reassessing island fire service
By STEVE REILLY, STAFF WRITER
ENGLEWOOD
Since 2011, the Englewood Area Fire Control District has provided fire protection to the bridgeless Don Pedro and Knight islands.
Both the fire district and islanders are rethinking whether they want to continue with the fire district at a higher cost. The property owners do have the option of having Charlotte County provide fire protection.
Island homeowners could see a $300 increase to their assessments if they stay with the fire district.
Island resident Bill Peterson told Englewood fire commissioners Wednesday that islanders intend to hold meetings to decide whether they want Englewood or Charlotte County to provide fire protection.
“It’s strictly a budget issue,” Peterson said. At a recent meeting of islanders and fire district officials, he said, “The 60 people said they preferred to stay with the Englewood fire district. They are pleased with the service and want to stay with the fire district.”
A decision must be reached by April 1, giving the county time to formalize its assessments to islanders.
The issue of fire service to the islands first arose after the island’s volunteer department — which had provided island fire protection for decades — folded in 2011.
Islanders pay for their fire protection through a county municipal service benefit unit. The islanders now are assessed $140.57 per residential unit, 20 cents per square foot for commercial properties, $54.47 for vacant lots, and $11.81 for other undeveloped properties.
In 2011, Charlotte County proposed manning the island station 24/7 with paid firefighters. At that time, the county proposed assessing property owners $511.88 per residential unit, and 42 cents per square foot for commercial properties.
To date, the fire district has provided daytime fire service from the mainland stations, depending upon the island’s ferries, and after-hour service with volunteer firefighters stationed on the island.
Fire commissioners no longer feel it’s prudent to provide fire-protection services without having professional firefighters on the island 24/7.
“We have to think of worst-case scenarios,” Fire Commissioner Ron Davison said, particularly concerned with having an unmanned fire station during the daytime hours and the time it takes to ferry firefighters to the island.
“I want (the fire district) to give 100 percent, no matter what situation comes up,” he said.
Englewood Fire Chief Scott Lane proposed a $1.2 million budget for staffing the island with six firefighters, two for each shift, and for additional capital improvements — remodeling the island station and replacing a fire vehicle.
Lane hasn’t finalized what the assessments will be, but preliminary figures suggested the islanders might pay $468.29 per residential unit, 53 cents per square foot for commercial, and $95 for vacant lots. He expects to finalize the proposed assessments, based upon an accurate count of island parcels, within the next two weeks.
Lane also stressed Wednesday that whatever the costs, mainland fire district ratepayers will not be affected, and will not bear any of the costs for island service.
Email: reilly@sun-herald.com 

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