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Bunnell’s Tucker Upsets Colleagues With Surprise Bid to Merge Fire Department With County

| July 25, 2016

derek fraser bunnell fire county

Derek Fraser, the Bunnell Fire Chief, center, speaking with county fire officials during a 2013 emergency in Bunnell. Commissioner Elbert Tucker is proposing to merge the Bunnell Volunteer Fire Department into the county’s operations to save money. (© FlaglerLive)

The Bunnell City Commission had gathered for a routine workshop on its general fund budget earlier this month, but commissioners knew something was up. Craig Coffey, the county administrator, was in the audience. So was Don Petito, the county fire chief. Neither would have any reason to be at a Bunnell city meeting, let alone a budget workshop.

Twenty minutes into the meeting, Commissioner Elbert Tucker revealed his latest surprise: he was proposing that Flagler County take over the Bunnell volunteer fire department and become the city’s full-time fire-services provider. The savings he says, could then be used to pay for an additional Bunnell police officer in a department that lost some officers two years ago when the city was in deficit.

Tucker on three occasions in the past few years–in 2010, 2011 and in 2014–had been pushing for the city’s police department to be dissolved, and for the sheriff to take over policing in the city. The commission rejected the proposal each time. Now, fresh from his re-election victory and at the beginning of what he says is his last three-year term, Tucker wants to do dissolve the fire department.

The Bunnell City Commission did not take Tucker’s surprise kindly.

“The county administrator is here, but we haven’t had a conversation about this, and this isn’t how I like to do business, and you know that,” Mayor Catherine Robinson told Tucker.

Tucker insisted the county was not initiating the proposal. He had. The county was responding to his question. The administrator and the fire chief could not have been expecting a decision that evening, as it was only a workshop, but were there to answer questions if necessary. None were asked them.

“I’m the one who brought this forward,” Tucker said, telling Robinson he didn’t want to be “a sacrificial lamb because I brought something up that nobody else brought up.”

The city’s department is officially a volunteer department, but its budget is not insignificant: its current budget is $132,000. The projected budget for next year is $117,000. The current budget includes such things as fuel ($5,000), equipment ($6,000), repair and maintenance for its vehicles ($11,000), insurance ($10,000), and Fire Chief Derek Fraser’s salary ($25,400, not including benefits) and retirement contributions ($24,000).

elbert tucker

Bunnell City Commissioner Elbert Tucker. (© FlaglerLive)

Tucker had emailed a five-page packet to his fellow commissioners a day earlier containing a letter from Coffey summarizing the talks he’d had with Tucker—but not with the county commission—and the potential benefits of consolidation. “Consider these documents as potential concepts that would allow your commission to further explore these ideas,” Coffey wrote Tucker on June 13, “At the very least it will give everyone a better understanding of the issues and at the most it will provide a framework to move forward should that be the direction of the Bunnell Commission. All the details are written on paper and not stone, meaning they could be adjusted as necessary.”

Coffey acknowledged in the letter that he had not broached the subject with county commissioners, though his letter was copied to them. His documents project a saving of $130,000 to $150,000 over 10 years, with the county using Bunnell’s fire station as a back-up station funded by the county. A reserve ambulance would be located there.

“I’m sure it took somebody by surprise and everybody by surprise,” Tucker said of his email. “To my mind we need to shift some of our funds from the fire department to the police department. We’re double-taxed. We have a tax that we pay to Flagler County for their fire services and emergency services. We only pay for fire services in Bunnell because we don’t have qualified staff to answer medical calls. So Flagler County is the one who answers medical calls with an ambulance to Bunnell.”

There were 1,666 calls for fire services in Bunnell last year, of which all but 335 were medical calls. The 335 included 89 vehicle crashes, 63 brush fires, 18 house or structure fires, and a few other miscellaneous calls. The police department gets 18,000 calls a year, a disproportionate share, when compared with fire calls, Tucker said, thus justifying the shift of resources  to the police department.

“We got the email yesterday and I work a full-time job and I don’t remember us discussing this nor going out to negotiate this or even to bring it up,” Robinson said.

Tucker said he wasn’t negotiating with the county, but merely seeking information. Robinson didn’t agree: she saw Tucker’s interactions with Coffey as negotiations. “I think this should have been discussed on the front end. I think we should talk about this if this is what we feel we need to do. But with less than 24 hours notice on this, I’m not interested in doing it.” She added: “The whole process has been a little bit stifled, and I understand why.”

Yet Robinson was ready to vote on the proposal that evening—the meeting was on July 14—even though it was a workshop, when commissions don’t take votes, and Tucker’s issue was not on the agenda. Tucker wasn’t looking for a vote. He said he wanted commissioners to think about the proposal.

“I don’t see the benefit of sacrificing one department for another,” Robinson said. “We should have talked about this and had some sort of long-term discussion about this. What you’re saying si the fire department should consolidate so the police department should have more staff.”

“Well, that’s right,” Tucker said.

“Well, that’s like saying let’s shut down public works so that water and utility can have more staff,” Robinson said.

“I don’t want this to be an emotional thing,” Tucker said. He was looking for a more analytical approach, and suggested moving the discussion to a subsequent meeting.

Commissioner Bonita Robinson and John Rogers said she hadn’t had time to think about the proposal, but would agree to a discussion at a future meeting. Rogers described himself surprised at being greeted by the fire department’s “fellows” as he was coming to the meeting: they were telling him they were going to be shut down. “I think we should have had this in a regular public meeting,” Rogers said.

Tucker reiterated that his intention was only to start the conversation. He pressed commissioners to schedule a time. They agreed to a workshop in late August on the issue. But a date wasn’t set.

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14 Responses for “Bunnell’s Tucker Upsets Colleagues With Surprise Bid to Merge Fire Department With County”

  1. PeachesMcGee says:

    Elbert has but one goal — to destroy the City of Bunnell infrastructure before his tenure ends.

  2. Shotout says:

    I’m so over Elbert. Didn’t he say his last term was in fact, going to be his last term?

  3. Robert Lewis says:

    If this isn’t judas with 30 pieces of silver. So let me get this straight, Bunnell’s budget will decrease $130-$150K and the county will pay for it. So county will staff this station, even with an ambulance. The same ambulance that they refused to provide Palm Coast?
    So here’s the important thing, how does the county intend in providing services to Bunnell without raising taxes? They are already raising taxes because of health insurance. So they will just add additional staff at no cost? Or will the entire tax payers of Flagler county go to offset these expenses? There you have it, Flagler County looking to make Palm Coast pay for services for another city.
    This seems like a sale of good with an expired warranty.
    Be afraid of this deal, it wreaks of dirty politics. I for one can’t stomach it.
    We are Taxes Enough Already! No new taxes Mr.Coffee

  4. Barry Hartmann says:

    Do it !!! Then do Palm Coast. Consolidation works, it would work well in Flagler and save the taxpayers money without reducing services. LETS STOP THE HOME TOWN RULE AND DO THE RIGHT THING.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Tucker is right there with Coffey and Company holding hands being deceitful to his fellow commissioners and the mayor by not discussing the matter up front with them to see if there was even a need to talk to the county. You can bet Coffey and Petito were there licking their chops. The county would like nothing more than to control any aspect of the city and put the squeeze on them by having any control. Look at what Coffey did to the city when they didn’t want the old court house, he basically kicked them out of the GSB which was built for 20 or so years of growth and sharing space saved tax dollars. It’s Coffey’s way or the highway people. Catherine Robinson knows when she sees a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Wasn’t it Tucker too who was taking with Coffey and company about swapping some real estate on County Road 305 that he owned for the land where the St Johns Park Community Center and Fire Station are located to build a new fire station in St Johns Park? It is shameful that Tucker blind-sided his constituents with this scheme. Elbert Tucker, wipe the kool-aid off your face and wash your hands.

  6. Denise Calderwood says:

    This is a very interesting topic that needs to be discussed and vetted out and not just by one interested Commissioner along with the County Administrator and the Fire Chief. This is an example of lack of transparency. And it appears we have these meetings supposedly to gather information to put proposals together. Whatever happened to just bringing up the idea and then gathering all of the stakeholders in the room together…..

  7. Why not says:

    I see nothing bad coming from this, assures you have protection 24/7. As it stands now there may not be anyone at the station to respond should you need them but if you make the county sign paper work to assure the station will be staffed there’s nothing bad that comes from this! I think some of you need to step back and look at the big picture and not necessarily go directly at the county saying they just want to take everything over… I don’t understand why all the fire departments don’t just consolidate, simplifies everything!!

  8. firewise says:

    People really need to read the article and understand the numbers. Bunnell Fire Department does zero medical calls for the city. That is all covered by the county already. Any fire that happens with in the city of Bunnell also gets a county fire company with it. so if you can save some money by giving up a small volunteer fire department and keep the same service then why not. The service will not change. Rescue 51 Rescue 92 and Engine 92 cover the city as it is. Whether it is fire calls car crashes or medical the county will always respond.

  9. Haw Creek Girl says:

    It’s obvious that both sides of the table have opinions on this. So, instead of allowing for open discussion at a preplanned workshop, Tucker tries to be all ‘secret squirrel’ …stinks to high hell..! Glad that the other Commisioners were diligent and prudent….and good at calling Tucker out at his b.s.

  10. Bunnel Citizen says:

    You people kill me. How many of you have actually been to a City Commissioners meeting? How many of you have ever looked at Bunnell’s budget? I will respond to “Anonymous”, how can Tucker trade any property on CR 305, it’s all Get your fact straight buddy. And to Catherine and all the others who think Tucker is sneaky or trying to “pull something”. Elbert Tucker is the ONLY one that goes over the agenda’s, and does look for ways to save money.
    Look back to the “Martinez” years, the City was in debt. The sneaking around was Martinez, Catherine, Jimmy Flynt, and Julie Stetson. Their little monthly meetings at Catherine’s house. Do your investigation people. Don’t believe the “cronies” around Bunnell. Agendas, meeting minutes and budgets are public record. Get them.

    The Bunnell VFD is a liability risk.

    Well, I’ve been a Bunnell resident since 1994, I’m happy Tucker is in there. He has been the ONLY one who cares about MY money.

  11. Fire really says:

    You should not make judgments without having all the facts what is posted is only half of the facts

  12. A little Common Sense please says:

    What I’m trying to understand and no one seems to care or mention it, but why should the county be paying for any city services? The county has paid for Palm coast law enforcement since it came into existence and some of its emergency services. I know there is some payment for these services, but are they truly paying the full share for these services and will the city of Bunnell be paying their fare share if this idea of Tucker’s/Coffee’s comes to pass? Why are the rest of the taxpayers who do not live within these two municipalities paying for services but sometimes are not as good as those in the city. For instance in the St. Johns park/Daytona North areas, I personally know of very slow response times and on two occasions no response by the rescue ambulance station there because the county had rented out the full time ambulance in St. Johns park to transfer patients from private facility to private facility. The two calls were eventually covered by ambulances from Bunnell and Espanola. Luckily there was no loss of life. The outlying areas are not receiving the services they are paying taxes for now and Coffee is trying spread our emergency services even thinner it appears. Any municipality needs to pay its fair share and that amount needs to be publicized verses the actual cost of the services in the local news papers to prove that every area in the county is being taxed fairly and are receiving the same quality of service no matter where in the county one is located. If the county takes over all emergency services so be it, but they darn well better have the same response times and quality of care that municipalities are getting and they don’t need to leave any station un manned to shuttle patents around for profit. That duty belongs to private companies for hire. Don’t leave us without emergency services dispatched from that districts emergency station again-got it Coffee.

  13. fireside says:

    Flagler county Fire Rescue does not do transport from facility to facility anymore. they always respond to any and all 911 calls in the county. So with that being said (A LITTLE COMMON SENSE PLEASE) Get your fact correct before bashing any service that puts their life on the line for you.

  14. Jim says:

    Bunnell Citizen you are right on the money! Catherine thought Martinez was made to order, watched him break the city and then talked trash about him after he was gone!

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