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New statewide government task force to address consolidation of special fire districts

M/PIFCD Commissioner Dreikorn appointed to committee

By PAULETTE LeBLANC - | Feb 17, 2021

Dr. Michael Dreikorn

pleblanc@breezenewspapers.com

At the Jan. 27 meeting of the Matlacha /Pine Island Fire Control District, Commissioner Michael Dreikorn was unanimously voted to represent the district for a now statewide task force that was created by Gov. Ron DeSantis to find inefficiencies in local government.

According to Dreikorn, the task force will be analyzing various government-run departments, including independent fire districts with possible consolidation in mind, in an effort to reduce taxpayer expenditures.

Property Appraiser Matt Caldwell, Dreikorn said, is submitting the proposition.

“It is being suggested that consolidating all fire districts within a county is a more efficient way of doing business,” said Dreikorn.

The task force, composed of commissioners or elected officials from various counties, and chartered by DeSantis, is still in its early phases, Dreikorn said. Although the committee, he said, has a seeming predisposition toward combining special districts, he was able to speak at a recent virtual meeting.

“I asked them to please recognize that not all independent fire districts are created equally and that they should have a different level of physical acumen and stewardship by their elected officials,” Dreikorn said. “It was acknowledged that that is the case and at the next meeting the committee will be focusing on independent fire districts and looking at whether consolidation makes sense.”

Since special districts have been invited by the task force to speak at a future meeting, for which no date has been set, Dreikorn addressed a letter to the Florida Association of Special Districts, listing concerns with regards to potential consolidation and how that might be detrimental to our district.

“Some of the biggest challenges for Matlacha/Pine Island,” said Dreikorn, “is that consolidation does not mean the entirety of the county. The three municipalities, which include Cape Coral, Fort Myers and Estero, have their own city fire departments and would be exempt from consolidation. What that would mean for Pine Island and Matlacha is that we would essentially become a satellite of a bigger bureaucracy managed from downtown Fort Myers and would lose all elements of home rule. Presently the residents and taxpayers of Pine Island and Matlacha pay an ad valorem tax to support the fire district, but that money stays on the island.”

Consolidating all the tax dollars, Dreikorn said, means the funds may or may not be allocated back to the island. This, he says, would be incorporated to a countywide budget, rather than having an island-wide budget based on the actual needs unique to the island. Local officials elected to the fire board by the people would also become unnecessary, as he says, in the case of consolidation, county officials would oversee directors, whereas now, all the current elected fire commissioners are neighbors, who do their job for the love of their island.

“There are so many reasons this would be a disadvantage,” said Dreikorn. “The equipment we have here on the island has been tailor made to meet the needs of our island. When you get into a larger hierarchy, the unique aspects of the demographics and geography tend to get lost. We have two brush trucks that have been completely built by the volunteer efforts of our firefighters. Our firefighters know exactly what they need. That type of interaction with our equipment and serving the people will be lost in consolidation. The taxpayers have a greater voice in the current model about how money is going to be spent and what it’s going to be spent on than they would ever have in a consolidated structure.”

The home rule as defined by:

Merriam Webster:

Self-government or limited autonomy in internal affairs by a dependent political unit (such as a territory or municipality)

Wikipedia:

The authority of a constituent part of a U.S. state to exercise powers of governance delegated to it by its state government. In some states, known as home rule states, the state’s constitution grants municipalities and/or counties the ability to pass laws to govern themselves as they see fit (so long as they obey the state and federal constitutions).