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Council calls for blue ribbon panel in fire district financial crisis

June 16, 2009

The Community Council of Lehigh Acres Monday night called for a blue ribbon committee to work on solutions facing the financially troubled Lehigh Acres Fire and Rescue District.

Rick Anglickis, first vice president of the group which met at 6:30 p.m. in the meeting room of New Images Ministries Church on Homestead Rd., made three motions actually in regards to the problems that have brought about layoffs at the fire department with more to come because of the lack of income from taxable homes and properties.

Anglickis said six people should be asked to serve on the blue ribbon panel, calling for "six people who could think out of the box," and they should come from the Community Council, the Lehigh Acres Chamber of Commerce and two from the fire board.

Article Photos

Lehhigh Acres Fire Chief Don Adams gives an update of the financial situation at the Lehigh Acres Fire Department before the Community Council of Lehigh Acres Monday night. Photo by Mel Toadvine

Anglickis also made a motion and it was also carried unanimously that the Council ask the Lee County Commission to write a letter to President Obama in regards to funds coming to Florida down to Lee County. He said the letter should come from the acting county executive of Lee County. He noted especially a bill moving through the Congress which gives stimulus money to areas to hire and pay to retain firefighters.

Two members of the Lee County Commission were at the meeting listening as Anglickis made his motions.

And thirdly, he made a motion to ask the Lee County Commission to take mortgages on the fire stations in Lehigh and lend money to the fire district over the next few years to be paid back.

This motion did not carry unanimously with three or four members voting against the measure. However, it passed as did the first two.

Karen Mankowski, a member of the Community Council, told Anglickis before the vote that borrowing money from the county by mortgaging fire stations in Lehigh may defeat the need for a blue ribbon panel.

The motions came after a 20-minute presentation by Fire Chief Don Adams. He said he came to the meeting to explain and dispel rumors in Lehigh about what is happening in the fire district. He gave a detailed update and said nobody from the union representing the 130 or so firefighters have come to him to offer any concessions. He noted that by law, he could not ask a member of the union if they were planning concessions.

"They could put that on the table at the June 23 meeting; but as of now, nobody has said anything to me about what they are doing," he said.

A special meeting has been called on June 23 at 6 p.m. in the auditorium of the East Lee County High School over the budget fiasco.

Adams has produced a timeline of when layoffs will come for additional firefighters. He has informed each of them. Two weeks ago, Adams called 11 people into his office and terminated the jobs of nine firefighters who are also EMTs or paramedics and two administrative employees. Their jobs end at the end of this month. He told of other measures the department is taking to save money, including sensors that turn lights on and off when employees leave the room. He also said he and the administrative staff had agreed to work four days a week, 10 hours a day, instead of five days to save electricity. However, he said he has worked on the last two Fridays to get things done.

Before he left the room, Chief Adams said he was willing to take a pay cut as much as is agreed upon by all the others.

He was asked the salaries of firefighters in Lehigh and Adams replied that with a paid for health package which is provided by the fire district, the lowest salaried firefighter made around $69,000 a year. Some in the audience gasped when they heard that figure and someone blurted out in the room that teachers in Lee County don't start off with that much money.

Anglickis noted that if firefighters wear their red shirts and go the Lee County Commission meeting next Tuesday to plead for money as they say they plan to do, they will be told that the county has nothing to do with funding the fire department.

The Lehigh Acres Fire and Control District is funded through taxes from Lehigh homes and properties and from ambulance fees. The current rate of tax is 2.759 mills per $1,000 of valuation of properties. The fire board can and the Community Council called for it to raise the tax to the 3 mills permitted by law as a cap.

The values of property in Lehigh have dropped drastically and taxes have fallen equally. Anglickis noted that more tax may not even equal what taxpayers were paying a few years back.

Several in the audience of perhaps 40 people blurted out attacks on the fire department but Community Council President Daman Shelor said comments would have to come from board members. He advised those people to appear at the Nov. 23 meeting to voice their opinions.

The two county commissioners at the meeting included Frank Mann, who represents the Lehigh area, and Brian Bigelow, who was scheduled to address the group.

The discussions and Adams' update regarding the fire department's financial woes took an hour and 15 minutes at the beginning of the meeting.

Shelor at the beginning of the meeting said he expected the meeting to be a long one. The Community Council meets on the third Monday of each month.



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