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Public safety improving in Lehigh Acres

February 24, 2017
By CHUCK BALLARO ( , Lehigh Acres Citizen

The Board of County Commissioners has listened to Sheriff Mike Scott's requests. They responded, and Lehigh Acres is going to be a safer place as a result.

The county has added $4.8 million in new patrols to the area, with the goal of reducing crime, and has given the sheriff just about everything has asked for in this year's budget.

It also added $1.1 million for 13 paramedics/EMTs for Emergency Management Services throughout Lee County.

Article Photos

The Lehigh Acres Fire Control and Rescue District operates five fire stations.

County Commissioner Cecil Pendergrass said the county was united in support of the Scott's bid to add more patrols to be proactive in preventing crime, rather than being reactive after one has happened.

"We're trying to stop crime before it occurs. There are two ways to do it. We choose to be more active and prevent crime," Pendergrass said. "You may deter some of the robberies at the stores. If they see cars being pulled over and see the police in the area, they won't commit crime."

"If you look at the population and the crime per capita, it's not as bad as you think. You get shootings here and in Harlem Lakes and everywhere," Pendergrass said.

Fact Box

Fire stations in Lehigh Acres

- Station 101, 1000 Joel Blvd.

- Station 102, 10 Homestead Road S

- Station 103, 308 Gunnery Road S.

- Station 104, 3102 16th St. S.W.

- Station 105, 636 Thomas Sherwin Ave. S.

Source: Lehigh Acres Fire Control and Rescue District

During the recession, where they had to cut back, Commissioner Frank Mann said they maintained, at full strength, the Sheriff's Office work force in Lehigh (and even increased it) because crime has always been an issue.

This year, Mann said the force has been increased again, more than it has been in the last decade.

The big news last year was that the Lehigh fire district opted out of the county tax roll by passing a Fire Service Assessment tax instead. Residents pay an annual fee of $292 per year.

Interim fire chief Rob Dillallo said the flat assessment will allow the district to stabilize its revenue, which became a huge issue after the housing market crashed in 2009, which cut their's and many other fire district's revenue in half.

The downturn forced the department to go bare bones, unable to put money into the stations and forcing the personnel at the stations to do some of the upkeep and maintenance themselves. It also forced them to let go of more than 40 people.

"The stations are in need of repairs. No. 2 is the oldest station in the district. It's been added onto and remodeled multiple times," Dillallo said. "Only the new ones, No.4 and No. 5 have not."

Those stations were built in 2008 and 2009, respectively.

"It allows us to keep staffing levels where they're at. It doesn't give us a lot of money to grow into the future, but we're stable and it allows us to provide the best service," Dillallo said.

With the assessment, they hope to build a new fire station No. 2 on Homestead Road, where the expansion of the highway will put the road pretty much at its front door.

Dillallo, with the help of consultants has been updating the department's five-year plan. It suggests, among other things, where current and future fire stations should go, meaning the new station will likely go down the street.

"The station is old and the road is widening to where we won't be able to put a station there," Dillallo said. "That facility does not meet our needs for the future."

Dillallo proposes putting the station about 20 seconds away from the old property, where he said there's enough land to allow it to grow in the future.

Some residents say the new station should go where the current station is, only much further back.

Dillallo also hopes to add and keep more firefighters, which he said has been an ongoing problem with the talk of the downturn, assessment and some peoples' desire to overturn it.

"It continues to make it very difficult to attract people to stay here because they think they're going to be laid off. In two months, I have had 10 applicants," Dillallo said.

There is also a replacement plan for its aging fleet. Rescue trucks in need of replacement are on the way, as are two firetrucks. As Lehigh, along with Fort Myers Beach, has its own ambulance service, this creates its own nuance.

There is also the issue of hiring a new fire chief, which Dillallo said he would accept if offered the position.

"The future of Lehigh is bright. Our last chief is gone and the board will determine which rote they want to go on the 17th," Dillallo said. "We've been working hard the last couple months to turn the department around and give it some direction."



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