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Almost $28 million budget passes for fire district

October 4, 2017
By MELISSA BILL ( , Lehigh Acres Citizen

Commissioners unanimously approved the Lehigh Acres Fire Control and Rescue District's nearly $28 million budget for the 2017-18 fiscal year during its Sept. 28 budget hearing and meeting.

The total budget is $27.90 million, with $14 million coming from the special assessment fees.

"A lot of work went into (the) budget and cuts were made wherever possible. With this budget, we get back a lot of the concessions that were made 10 years ago," Fire Chief Robert Dilallo said.

Article Photos

Fire Station 102 sustained damage in Hurricane Irma.

During previous fire board meetings, Dilallo had specified a need by the district for acquiring newer staff vehicles as many of them are more than 10 years old and failing mechanically.

"This budget includes funding for five new staff vehicles and the lease allowable amount for a brush truck," he said.

Operating expenditures went up slightly from last year, with an increase in health insurance rates and employee salaries.

"We tried to raise staff salaries in an effort to bring them back to where they were prior to the concessions that were made eight years ago. Even with the increase, our entire department is still 5 percent below were they were in 2009," Dilallo said.

"This is an extremely busy department because we also do medical transport," he added. "It's important that we stay competitive. A lot of fire fighters go to other districts because they are offered better pay and insurance."

Also at the meeting, officials a recapped the district's activity before and after Hurricane Irma.

"It was very tough for staff. There were connection issues and we had a record-breaking amount of calls after the storm. We had 130 alone the day after Irma," Dilallo said.

Commissioner Cathy Kruse applauded the efforts of the fire district and its employees.

"I think that the fire staff did an awesome job. We really appreciate all the hours they put in and the way they handled post-Irma efforts," she said.

The board also asked for an update on Stations 101 and 102, which sustained damage in the storm.

"Both stations are uninhabitable at this time," Dilallo said. "The roof is off of Station 101, and Station 102 suffered structural damage, as well. Both stations have water damage, which is a concern from an electrical and safety standpoint."

According to Dilallo, the district's insurance company and FEMA are taking longer to assess the damage due to the volume of calls that both have been receiving since Irma.

"The insurance company still needs to send someone to assess the extent of the structural damages, so for now it's not safe for crews to go back," he said.

Currently, the crews assigned to those stations are working out of Stations 105 and 104.

"Right now, we have people doubled up and have to accommodate the additional crew members. Some are sleeping on mattresses and blow up beds in our computer rooms and classrooms," Dilallo said.

He asked the commissioners to approve an allocation of money from the district's disaster relief fund to purchase temporary trailers, which would be used to house the displaced crews.

Commissioner Linda Carter motioned to approve up to $200,000 from the fund, which was backed by Kruse and Debra Cunningham with a 3-0 vote. Two seats remain vacant on the five-member board.

According to Dilallo, the trailers will be delivered Oct. 12 and set up by the following week. The trailers will be placed on the properties of Stations 101 and 102.



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