To the editor:
The Matlacha/Pine Island Fire Control District Board has now admitted failure in fiscally managing our fire district by asking for additional funding. This comes as no surprise but rather the inevitable result of 6 years of poor management and fiscal failure. Greater funding is not the answer; proper management is.
In September of 2008, in the face of two consecutive years of 15 percent decline in property values, your fire board made the first three critical missteps:
First, on the very day of the annual budget hearing, the board determined to move forward with a 9 percent increase in wages for the firefighters. Taking this action after the Lee County teachers had a 5 percent pay increase set aside and the Lee County Sheriff Department was put on pay freeze. I argued against this action to the point of exhaustion. Most egregious in this action was the fact that funding for the increase would not even be available until the budget was approved.
Second and to the egregious point, that same day, these same commissioners explained to the public why taxes were increasing rather than respectfully hearing the concerns of the taxpayers prior to adopting a budget. Sadly, as labor negotiations were ongoing, statutory constraints prohibited the subject of the pay increase being brought up in the budget hearing.
Third, on Sept. 24, the board voted to raise the millage rate by 14 percent for the 2008/2009 tax year. The final millage rate of 2.85 mills raised homesteaded property taxes by 14 percent but generated 4.4 percent less total funding then the prior year due to the decline in property values. Bottom line: More money was spent with less being received.
On Sept. 29, 2008, I tendered my resignation from the Matlacha Pine Island Control District Board with the following letter:
As you are aware, I have spoken fervently against the recently adopted tax increase and in favor of finding cut backs to deal with the current economy in keeping with the mood of our government. The action of the Matlacha/Pine Island Fire Control District Board has now been to;
* Raise the Millage Rate while generating less disposable funding;
* Adopt a Budget that affords a sizable increase in Staffing and Operating cost;
* Take these actions with the full knowledge that next year will bring another reduction in Taxable Values
I admonish you that you serve at the will of the taxpayers and the actions that you have just taken without exhausting every avenue to find savings may well be interpreted as a failure to responsibly carry out your elected duties.
In that I believe, these actions to be fundamentally and morally wrong to the point that I cannot and will not associate myself further with this Board, I herewith tender my resignation from the Matlacha/Pine Island Fire Control District Board.
Robert V. Elder
Seat 2, Matlacha - Pine Island Fire Control District
During this recession, the MPIFCD has made no staffing cutbacks and has even hired new employees to replace exiting staff members. The millage rate has been pushed to the maximum of 3 percent and the budget has been virtually consumed by payroll leaving our equipment and infrastructure in disrepair.
Plans for the Matlacha Station 4 were put on hold as we watched our Chamber of Commerce burn to the ground practically next door to the new station site. Equipment has been allowed to age to the point of accepting donated used equipment in some cases and no recourse in others. The reason is simple; these essential items have not been properly prioritized.
The funding levels for the MPIFCD have not decreased by 38 percent since 2000 as stated in last week's article. That decrease has occurred since the beginning of the current recession in 2007. Lets' not forget the massive increases in funding that occurred prior to 2007.
We need a board of commissioners who can make the tough decisions necessary to manage the affairs of our fire district in the best interest of the taxpayers. This current board has actually allowed new employees to be hired this year while simultaneously preparing the increased millage referendum.
The necessary equipment listed by Chief Marzella are simple to handle by setting aside monies each year to be fully funded and available on the projected date of purchase. Is it so complicated? It does us little good to have firefighters with no equipment.
This message should be loud. Commissioners, get your house in order, before the governor does it for you.
I will make myself available for any discussions be they with citizens or commissioners.
Past commissioner and chairman,
Matlacha/ Pine Island Fire Control District