The Lehigh Acres Fire And Rescue District Is On The Threshold Of Financial Meltdown.
According to the Fire Commissioners they have been dipping into their reserves and in less than two years they will officially be broke.
Fire Chief John Wayne said if they have to have layoffs or shut down, residents may be forced to pay higher insurance rates anyway.
Monday night the Fire Commissioners held a meeting to come up with a solution to ensure the future of the department without passing too much of the added costs over to residents.
It is one of two meetings that will–as many have described it–either set the stage for the department’s salvation or its eventual demise.
Fire Chief John Wayne says that financially the department has reached critical mass.
Wayne says it currently takes $14.7 million to operate fire and ambulance service a year.
The fire district is funded through property taxes– which only brings in $7.4 million per year.
With falling tax revenue and calls for service on the rise, the department is looking for a solution to a terrible situation.
Some opportunities that have saved jobs include federal grants. But with the uncertainty of these funds the district is looking for a more reliable source of income in the form of an assessment fee.
The idea is to replace the property tax funding source with this new assessment fee.
It was also found out that exempt property tax parcels such churches or not for profits may have to pay this new assessment fee also.
The fire board hired Government Services Group (GSG) out of Tallahassee to draw up the figures to show the assessment would break out–but the decision will ultimately be left to the voters.
For fair disclosure GSG is the same company that has been running the FGUA, Lehigh Acres Water and Sewer Company for years.
The fire chief says if the assessment fails it means about 60 layoffs and the end of ambulance service.
Voters will make the final decision in November of 2014.
The next Fire Commission meeting will on Tuesday, February 25, 2014 at East County Water Control District offices at 601 East County Lane, Lehigh Acres, Florida 33936.