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Contentious Collier fire fees to be decided on August ballot

Posted: 6:44 PM, Aug 27, 2018
Updated: 2018-08-28 00:07:16Z

People living in two separate Collier County fire districts will decide Tuesday whether controversial taxes, which could have residents, businesses, and even some nonprofits, paying more for fire protection. 

Leaders with the North Collier Fire and Immokalee Fire Districts say they need to replace aging fire trucks, and make other improvements to keep up with their expanding roles as first responders, such as water rescues and training for active shooter situations.

Home owners in the North Collier Fire District could be assessed between $20 to $240, depending on the value of the home.

"We need to raise money," said Annette Kniola of North Naples. "We are growing out here. There is definitely a fire station that will be needed."

But many are opposed to the idea. Currently, the Bentley Village retirement community pays about $86,000 to the North Collier Fire District. The proposed tax plan could skyrocket that figure into the hundreds of thousands.

"This would be passed on to all of the residents, who are basically on fixed incomes," said Bentley Village resident Frank Halas.

If Immokalee's fire fee passes, home owners in that district would pay $369 a year for emergency services. Allen Fish, owner of Allen's Auto Parts in downtown Immokalee, thinks that's too much for the low-income farming community.

"When you put a $369 tax on a (rental) trailer, you know where it's going," Fish said. "It's going to the person renting that thing. They can't afford it."

Businesses like his auto parts store would be assessed forty cents per square foot - and so would nonprofits, such as churches.

"One of the things that I've caught the most flak about is my recommendation to the board to exempt no one," Choate said. "We have roughly sixty percent of the people within our fire district - businesses and people - that pay zero for fire protection, meaning the forty percent who pay their taxes annually are funding us a hundred percent."

A spokesman with Lipman Family Farms - one of Immokalee's biggest employers - said that some people would lose their jobs if businesses have to pay the fire fee.

In North Collier, the fire fee issue has helped to spur almost a dozen candidates to vie for only three open fire commission board seats. Those races usually run unopposed, or with only one or two candidates per seat.