To the editor:
The current state of financial crisis facing the Matlacha Pine Island Fire Control District is dire and now to the point that, even if the millage rate was increased as requested, the remainder of 2014 and all of 2015 operations at current levels are unsustainable. Immediate cutbacks must be instituted to save the MPIFCD.
First, the solution:
1) Change current shift staffing from 9 to 7 per shift.
2) Currently we have 3 shifts rotating 24 hours on duty and 48 off. Create a 4th shift utilizing the 6 personnel removed from the other 3 shifts.
3) Reassign the deputy chief to captain the new 4th shift.
4) Schedule new shift rotation of 24 hours on duty and 72 off.
5) Make minimum staffing 6 per shift. Normal operations fills a vacancy with another shift employee at overtime rates.
Now the justification:
1) Currently shift personnel are on a rotating schedule equivalent to an average of 56 hours per week. With the 4 shift configuration, shift personnel will be on a rotating schedule equivalent to an average of 42 hours per week. No layoffs required.
2) 12 years ago, this was the daily staffing level.
3) U.S. Census shows a 9 percent decline in population when comparing 2000 and 2010 totals for St. James City, Bokeelia, Pineland, Matlacha, Matlacha Isles and Matlacha Shores.
4) No major infrastructure developments have been created in the past 12 years.
This implementation will decrease total labor costs by 22 to 25 percent.
Alternatively, 1 engineer and 1 firefighter could be eliminated from each shift while keeping 3 shifts, but this seems unattractive as it would leave 6 current employees laid off with no tangible opportunities with other fire districts while the remaining personnel enjoy their average 56-hour weeks. Also, to achieve the needed savings, some additional cuts may then be necessary with remaining shift personnel hourly rates.
When should the solution be implemented? Immediately by exigent circumstances or emergency conditions. Currently the MPIFCD has been allowed to fall out of Florida State mandated compliance.
During Hurricane Charley, while financial relief may have been provided later, the incident operation was funded by the MPIFCD. Each district is to have operating monies in reserve at all times. These reserves do not currently exist leaving us financially exposed in the event of a disaster such as a hurricane. This fact alone is justification to take immediate action under emergency conditions.
Create a real calendar based budget that projects each piece of equipment and gear showing anticipated replacement cost and life span retirement date. Funding for each item should be listed and proportionally generated annually to provide available funding at the anticipated date of purchase. These equipment funding levels need to be recovered including the recovery of operating reserves and funding for the Matlacha Station 4 prior to considering returning to the staffing level of 9 per shift which will be required at the time of occupying the Matlacha Station.
This information has been reviewed every year by our fire commissioners and they knowingly adopted short-fall budgets for the past 6 years. Additionally, taxable property values can always be anticipated by monitoring the real estate sales during any given year so we can always have a view of what values should be available for taxation next year at any given time. Staffing should have been reduced to 7 long before now.
I apologize for the technical nature of this information but it is critically important that the community take it seriously. While the information may be difficult to understand, please discuss it in the community and reach out to your commissioners and neighbors. If the governor becomes involved, the consequences could be serious. You must all become involved to guide your commissioners.
Lastly, please know that I hold nothing against any of the staff of our fire district. This is all presented in order to save our fire district. As difficult as it may be, I have confidence that Chief Marzella has the skills to implement these cutbacks and that our firefighters will understand that sharing the available resources with their fellow firefighters rather than implementing layoffs is best for all during these tough economic times.
The email address furnished with last weeks article has failed irreparably with Yahoo. Please feel free to contact me at email@example.com and re-send any communications as the others are not recoverable.
I will make myself available for any discussions be they with citizens or commissioners.
Past Commissioner and chairman, Matlacha/ Pine Island Fire Control District