State wants to pass Greater Naples Fire expenses to Collier taxpayers

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Fiery and sometimes deadly crashes are not unusual along Alligator Alley. But there is a fire station along that part of the interstate ready to react to all emergencies.

Right now, the state pays to keep those first responders at the ready. But that could soon change.

“We were in jeopardy of not having any funding moving into next year,” said Kingman Schuldt, fire chief at the Greater Naples Fire Rescue District.

Right now, Collier County taxpayers do not pay any money to staff and operate the Greater Naples Fire station on Alligator Alley but come July 1 that could change.

“The state’s position is that about 12% to 15% of the incidents that occur on the stretch of alligator alley actually involves a resident of Collier County,” Schuldt said. “They thought it was fair that the residents of Collier County would assume part of that cost.”

Under the current contract, the state reimburses Greater Naples Fire up to $1.5 million. But the new eight-year deal on the table demands Collier County to pay nearly 10 percent of that tab.

“That doesn’t mean we’re going to go back to the taxpayers and say, ‘raise your taxes,'” Schuldt said. “We have to make that difference up within our normal operating budget.”

The chief does not like it, but he said it is a compromise. The station is vital to reducing response times on the stretch of interstate.

Local residents sympathize with the station.

“This area has just gone crazy,” Donna Percope said. “You’re driving here, there, and everywhere you want to be protected. Everywhere.”

“I feel that the more firemen we have here protecting our county and protecting our people the better,” Josh Alzamora said. “I mean, those guys work really hard and they’re lifesavers.”

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