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Guest Opinion: Lehigh Acres Fire Dept. faces bankruptcy


September 5, 2011
By Commissioner KEVIN SHEA , Lehigh Acres Citizen

Your Fire Department is on a pathway to bankruptcy. At the recent budget workshop the Finance Manager confirmed that even with the Washington bailout we will have a $2.4 million deficit in the coming budget year starting October 1. The reserves are fast disappearing. We cannot borrow money for operating expenses.

The terms of the bailout prohibit us from adjusting pay and benefits which is more than 80 percent of the budget. Our hands are tied by the union that has the power to reject any proposal. The union contract expires on September 30, 2012. Unless we can make major changes in this one sided contract we are going over the cliff.

Currently the bailout extends special protection to 46 positions. If anyone leaves we are required to refill the position. The purpose of the grant was to preserve jobs. But only 11 firefighters remain from the original group, so much for loyalty.

This district has become a doormat to be used and abused to preserve union power.

Going forward one way to solve both the manpower and financial problems is to establish unpaid firefighters auxiliary. This has been done in several districts that do not have a federal grant. The firefighters would be able to maintain their certification.

There has been a lot of talk about applying for another grant. The problem with this idea is that we would still have a multi million dollar deficit as in the 2012-13 proposed budget. This does nothing to correct the unsound financial condition of the district.

There will be no fairy that will drop a pot of gold at our doorstep.

Maybe the only alternative is to file for bankruptcy and force a major reorganization that reforms pay and benefits, the largest expenditure in our budget, such that we live within our means.

- Kevin Shea is a member of the Lehigh Acres Fire and Rescue Board of Commissioners. The next budget hearing is scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 8 at 5 p.m.



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