1. #1
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    Default Iona-McGregor Fla--Higher Taxes possible for Fire District

    Iona voters raise tax cap for fire district

    Botched election notices upset some

    By MIKE HOYEM, mhoyem@news-press.com


    Voters in the Iona-McGregor Fire District approved a tax cap increase Tuesday in an election plagued by spotty notification of voters.

    With votes in 23 of 24 precincts counted late Tuesday evening, 70 percent of voters said yes while about 30 percent said no.

    The one uncounted precinct didn’t appear to stand much chance of changing the election’s outcome.

    Iona-McGregor Fire Chief Gerald Adema says an increase in taxes is needed so the district can hire more firefighters, paramedics and staff a new station being built off South Pointe Boulevard.

    The district, Adema says, also needs to comply with new national safety standards and a new rule that prevents firefighters from entering a burning structure unless there are at least two going in while another two stand by outside.

    Kathleen Buckley, 57, voted yes.

    “I feel that when it comes to police and fire that’s one of our most important things,” Buckley said. “I wouldn’t want to be sitting at my house and having a fire and not have someone be able to respond or not allowed to respond because of the law.”

    Buckley received a fire district newsletter in the mail telling her about the election.

    But many voters said they received no notice.

    Joe Heffernan, 67, wasn’t pleased with his lack of notification and called the situation “kind of lame.”

    “They need to do better than a newsletter,” Heffernan said.

    Iona-McGregor Assistant Fire Chief Steven Juntikka said the district hired a company to send newsletters to every household in the area.

    But he said that did not happen — for reasons that still weren’t clear Tuesday — and district officials had to hand-deliver hundreds of newsletters themselves.

    The district — which covers a section of Lee County south of Fort Myers, west of U.S. 41 and north of Fort Myers Beach — currently has the lowest tax cap of any fire district in the county.

    A mill is $1 in taxes for every $1,000 in taxable property. Fire Board Chairman Mark Primmer said raising the tax rate to about 2 mills should give the district the money it needs.

    “It’s something that as a board needed to be done for the additional personnel and for the safety factor for the firefighters in the event of a structure fire,” Primmer said. “I’m happy about the outcome. The funds were necessary.”

    The district has 32,818 registered voters but only about 2,000 people went to the polls.

    Lee County Elections Supervisor Philinda Young said the turnout of around 5.7 percent was low, but typical of a special election featuring no other issues or candidates.

    “It’s usually somewhere between 5 and 8 percent in an election like this,” she said.

    Young said she offered to conduct the election by mail, which would have eliminated the voter notification problem and would have resulted in a higher turnout — probably from 40 to 48 percent.

    The mail election also might have cost a little less than the $40,000 the district will pay for the conventional election, Young said.

    But district officials turned the offer down.

    Juntikka said the district wanted a traditional election so it would have an opportunity to inform voters.

    “You need to provide people with the reasons why,” Juntikka said. “In a mail-out campaign, you can’t do that. We wanted an opportunity to make our case to the public.”
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    ------------------------------
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

  2. #2
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    Post Officials Defend Process

    Fire district officials defend election notice


    By MIKE HOYEM, mhoyem@news-press.com


    The Iona-McGregor Fire District released records Thursday showing 21,535 newsletters were sent out advertising the district’s tax cap election.

    That’s slightly fewer than the 22,000 newsletters Fire Chief Gerald Adema said were sent out, but far fewer than the 32,607 Lee County officials say would need to be mailed to reach every household in the district.

    The newsletters went out April 28 — eight days before the election that upped the tax cap from 2.5 mils to 3.5.

    And turnout at the polls Tuesday was light — 5.76 percent — with only 1,888 of the district’s 32,758 registered voters casting ballots.

    Iona-McGregor Assistant Fire Chief Steven Juntikka said Thursday that district officials, who have been accused by some of running a “stealth election,” couldn’t understand why so many people complained they hadn’t heard about the election.

    “We should have reached a lot more people than the 50 percent or so that it seemed indicated receiving our brochure,” Juntikka said, adding that the district “did our part to get the message out. That may not be the feeling in the community, but that is the case.”

    Joe Heffernan, 67, is among the residents who said they weren’t adequately notified.

    “I talked to people at the (Cypress Lake County Club),” Heffernan said. “Nobody knew about that election. To me, I think it was a ruse. Half the people that could have voted were up North already.”

    Juntikka said he doesn’t know how much of a factor seasonal residents might have played in the voting.

    “How many are even registered voters in Lee County?” he asked.

    Heffernan accused officials of going out of their way to inform people sympathetic to the district and giving others last-minute notice or no notice at all.

    Juntikka denied it, saying the district had 40 to 50 people going to shopping centers, grocery stores and civic organizations to make people aware of the election.

    He said the newsletters stressing the need for the increase went out a week before the voting so the issue would “stay fresh in people’s minds.”

    “I think our strategy was sound,” Juntikka said.

    Lee County Elections Supervisor Philinda Young isn’t criticizing the district, but she says county fire districts have a history of holding elections that aren’t well publicized because chances of success increase when only those who support an issue know what’s going on.

    “That’s the way it seems to have worked in the past,” Young said.

    When The News-Press learned Monday that some residents were saying the election wasn’t adequately advertised, Adema denied it, saying he’d mailed out 22,000 newsletters.

    Later the same day, Juntikka said the 22,000 was inaccurate and that the district had hired a company to send a newsletter “to every household.”

    According to district statistics, there are somewhere between 26,101 and 27,906 households in Iona-McGregor and between 58,246 and 62,700 full- and part-time residents.

    Lee County officials say there are 32,607 dwelling units in Iona-McGregor and that up to 61,495 full- and part-time residents lived there in December 1999.

    Juntikka said he’s satisfied with the district’s numbers, saying “all of these are estimates.”

    But according to county officials — who say Iona-McGregor could now have as many as 65,000 residents at season’s peak — the county’s dwelling unit numbers are based on certificates of occupancy, not estimates.

    Young offered to conduct the election by mail for the district. That way, all voters would have been notified and the turnout, she said, likely would have been from 40 percent to 48 percent.

    The district said no.

    The Bayshore Fire District will have an election June 10 in which its voters will be asked to up the tax cap from 2.5 mils to 3.5.

    Bayshore officials have declined Young’s offer, too.

    Bayshore Fire Capt. Rich Ramsey said the district plans to get the word out by posting signs, running newspaper ads and having an open house at the fire station.

    “I think we’re going to try to cover all avenues as far as getting information out,” Ramsey said. “We’re painting signs right now.”

    Back to Local & State
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    ------------------------------
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

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