The Matlacha/Pine Island Fire Control District Board of Commissioners has taken action to ask island residents to consider authorizing an increase to the millage cap from 3.00 to 3.75 mills - a 25 percent increase. The issue has been placed on the ballot for the Aug. 26, 2014, primary election.
The last time residents were asked for an increase was 2000. Since then, due to the overall decline in the economy, the district has lost 38.75 percent of the ad valorem (according to value) tax. Without the increase the district could face layoffs and reduced services. In many cases this causes an increase in insurance rates for the homeowner.
"For long-term survival, this is an absolute must," Deputy Chief Joe Marzella said. "Our highest priority now is to get services to Matlacha, Matlacha Isles and Cape Royal. The problem we have there is their ISO (Insurance Services Offices) rating is a 9-10 because they are outside the 5-mile limit. We currently have a 14, 15, 16 minute response time to those areas."
Insurance Services Offices help establish appropriate fire insurance premiums for residential and commercial properties. Insurance companies need reliable, up-to-date information about a community's fire-protection services. ISO provides that information through the Public Protection Classification program. Class 1 generally represents superior property fire protection, and Class 10 indicates that the area's fire-suppression program doesn't meet ISO's minimum criteria.
"Here on Pine Island, to make up for the loss of revenue, we have been spending reserves and had to take out a loan to balance the budget until tax revenues were received," Marzella said. "We have applied for and received different federal and state grants, as well as surplus federal and state vehicles, pumps, generators, etc. While we continue to apply for such grants, the ability to receive funds, or to receive adequate funds is limited.
"Our reserves are down to nothing," Marzella said. "Right now communications between the departments is being affected. The Matlacha/Pine Island Fire Control District participates in a mutual aid assistance with all Lee County Fire Departments but cannot communicate with their systems because of a lack of funding.
"We need to get that station out on Matlacha open," Marzella said. "Even if it's a temporary station it will improve our response times to those areas.
"We have outdated engines that need to be replaced and engines are $400,000 - $425,000. We also have 'jaws-of-life' that are 25 and 30 years old. They still work but not to what they should be ... three sets are $100,000 $125,000. NFPA regulations state that our bunker gear and air-packs are supposed to be replaced every 10 years - 2016 marks that deadline. It's been 14 years since the last mill increase and although 25 percent sounds like a lot it amounts to $6.25 cents per month (per $100,000) for the homeowner."