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Manatee County Commissioners Again Discuss Fire District Consolidations


BRADENTON — During a Tuesday meeting of the Manatee County Commission, multiple commissioners expressed their support for future conversations on the possibility of consolidating some of the county's fire districts. Each of the seven fire chiefs sat in BOCC chambers to hear the discussion.

The subject appeared on the April 23 meeting agenda under “Commission Agenda Items,” items requested to be added to the meeting’s agenda by an individual commissioner. Commission chair Mike Rahn added item 85, Consolidation of Fire Districts.

Rahn opened the item by addressing the chiefs sitting in the audience.

“This is more of a conversation than any type of demand,” he said, explaining that he had recently been approached by numerous individuals who he said were questioning him about “efficiencies in government.”

Rahn suggested that the hypothetical consolidation of fire districts could lead to more efficiency before turning to ask the county administrator what role the county commission had over fire districts. County Administrator Charlie Bishop confirmed that the county commission had no authority to make demands or give directives to fire district chiefs or commissions about their organizations or any mergers of their organizations. Such decisions would be the purview of the fire district commissions and the state government.

Commissioner Rahn then seemed uncertain about the right solution or how to proceed with his agenda item.

“I guess what we want to do is,” said Rahn, “is to reach out to the fire chiefs and fire districts and if they want to merge or consolidate or anything like that, we would be more than happy to help them with a study or something of that nature to assist them in that opportunity. We do want to make sure that we are providing the best fire service that we can to the citizens as Manatee County grows.”

“I don’t know if we have to create more fire districts,” Rahn continued. “Or if we can make our fire districts work with the state and work with our chiefs to make it more efficient. So, I guess that’s where we’re at.  That would be it, right? We have no control?”

“No control,” confirmed Administrator Bishop.

As Rahn was seemingly ready to close the item, Commissioners Kevin Van Ostenbridge and George Kruse weighed in with their opinions.

Van Ostenbridge told his colleagues that the subject of fire district consolidation had been raised many times in past years. He said that the topic was coming up again now because the Duette Fire District was “wanting to achieve ALS status” but the district was “unable to meet even the bare minimum qualifications to achieve that.”

However, Van Ostenbridge explained that a merger could aid the Duette Fire District in its goals. He said a merger with a larger neighboring fire district would bring Duette’s smaller volunteer unit into consolidation with more resources while creating a large combined district. The commissioner provided the merger of the old Myakka Fire District with the East Manatee Fire District as an example of a successful fire district merger.

“When you have smaller districts,” said Van Ostenbridge, “they tend to be more susceptible to challenges, and when you have larger districts, those tend to be more resilient. It’s just the way it is.”

Van Ostenbridge said certain districts are willing to have discussions about consolidation, while other districts are uninterested. One example the commissioner provided was that of the West Manatee Fire District, which he said “has some interest in merging,” but the one district it is contiguous with—the Cedarhammock Fire District—is not interested in such a merger, he said.  

Directing his comments toward the fire chiefs in the audience, Van Ostenbridge expressed that it was not his intention to be “heavy-handed” or “push the envelope too much.” He said he wanted to encourage the fire districts to hold discussions about where there might be opportunities for mergers or consolidation. He asked the chiefs to consider the possible conservative value in mergers, including the “decrease of duplicity” and decrease in administrative costs. Van Ostenbridge said mergers would increase efficiency while also increasing services to residents.

Commissioner George Kruse said Tuesday that he also supported the county’s fire districts seeking merger opportunities. Such consolidations, said Kruse, might provide more “uniformity” across the county and lead to improved safety. Kruse agreed with Van Ostenbridge that the merger of the former Myakka Fire District with the East Manatee Fire District was a good example of the benefits of such consolidations on cost and service to the citizens. 

“I would like this to be a bigger discussion,” suggested Kruse. “Maybe the delegation needs to get involved in it.”

Kruse added that an OPPAGA study may be worth exploring to help collect data and better to inform a discussion about possible fire district consolidations.

Closing the discussion, Van Ostenbridge again directed his comments to the fire chiefs sitting in chambers. He told them that he agreed with much of Kruse’s remarks, adding, “I want you guys to keep control of your own destiny. Bringing OPPAGA in is an option, but you can start to lose control. Bringing the delegation in is an option, but you start to lose control at that point. That’s why I strongly urge the fire chiefs to sit down together and be open-minded, have good dialogue and conversation, and see what you can come up with. Keep it all in-house.”

No motion or action was taken by commissioners outside of the discussion. None of the fire chiefs in attendance provided comments on the topic during Tuesday’s meeting. 


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  • Ray

    Van Ostenbridge expressed that it was not his intention to be “heavy-handed” . He asked the chiefs to consider the possible conservative value in mergers, including the “decrease of duplicity” and decrease in administrative costs. And yet this commission keeps adding cost to taxpayers for administrative overload.

    Wednesday, April 24 Report this

  • Cat L

    Could they have achieved that goal with an email to the various fire chiefs? And frankly, there are other inefficiencies that could probably be addressed. Perhaps not ripping out well established shade giving trees in favor of different, less shady trees. Maybe get that impact fee study going? How about making a certain someone split his lot (which clearly has more than on great big house) and pay taxes as he should. Or maybe follow through with a plan to expand an existing landfill? Just a thought.

    Wednesday, April 24 Report this