Manatee Fire Districts Could Soon Meld Together

Government

BY JACOB OGLES SRQ DAILY FRESHLY SQUEEZED CONTENT EVERY MORNING THURSDAY APR 1, 2021

Two Manatee County first departments could soon meld together. A local bill sponsored in the Florida Legislature by Rep. Tommy Gregory, R-Sarasota, would merge the Myakka City Fire Control District into the East Manatee Fire Rescue District.

That could cap off a process started in 2019, when respective commissioners for each district discussed joining forces. The Manatee County Commission and both districts ultimately endorsed such a move, and a ballot placed on the ballot in August of 2020 found the public supportive of the change in both existing districts.

Gregory said combining the agencies together should allow for a reduction in fees for citizens that’s accompanied by better service. “There is some redundancy that we are doing away with,” he said.  “But also, just the training and response times overall, we should be able to provide a better level of service and at better cost.”

The special process for local bills required the proposal to be presented to the bipartisan Manatee County Legislative Session before the Legislature convened in Tallahassee. It won unanimous support there, and since the districts fall within Gregory’s district, he has carried the bill in Tallahassee. It’s won support already in the Local Administration & Veterans Affairs Subcommittee, as well as the Ways & Means Committee, and goes now to Appropriations. So far, the proposal hasn’t received a no vote.

It will take an act of the Legislature, along with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ signature, to change the structure of the fire districts. Both are governed by state law that grants tax collection authority. The Myakka City Fire District currently runs a deficit or about $150,000 an hour and serves an expansive area despite just 1,320 voters weighing in the merger last year. Meanwhile, the East Manatee Fire Rescue District already has a budget of around $2 million and could absorb the district. About 80,000 residents, many of them in Lakewood Ranch, live the larger fire district now.

Since voters came out in support of the merger last year, the two fire districts have already started cross-training employees to save costs moving forward.

 

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