Voters in two Collier County fire districts nixed proposals Tuesday that would have had them paying more for fire protection. The Immokalee and North Collier Fire Districts both asked voters to give them more money to replace aging equipment and make other improvements.
People living at the Bentley Village retirement community - many of them on fixed incomes - were so opposed to North Collier's fire fee proposal that they organized a political action committee called "No Blank Check" to urge people to vote "no." As a whole, Bentley Village pays about $86,000 a year to the fire district. The fee would have shot that figure up into the hundreds of thousands.
North Collier Fire Commissioners proposed the fee to keep up with the increasing demands for their services, including water rescues and training for active shooter scenarios.
At a watch party at Bentley Village Tuesday evening, over a hundred residents celebrated their victory. 79.31% of voters said "no" to the fee, compared to 20.69% who said "yes."
"I think it's exceeded even our expectations," said Steve Demidovich, one of No Blank Check's organizers. "80 to 20 is a fabulous victory, and it's a testament to the work that we put in our PAC."
The fire fee proposal for the Immokalee Fire District was also shot down by voters Tuesday. Immokalee Fire Chief Michael Choate told Fox 4 that his firefighters are the lowest paid in Southwest Florida, and believes that some may eventually need to be laid off without more funding.
Opponents of Immokalee's proposal - which would have assessed homeowners a $369 flat fee - have said that many in the low-income farming community wouldn't have been able to afford it. Businesses, and even nonprofits such as churches, would have been assessed forty cents per square foot.