WMFR merger just talk for now

WMFR merger district map
On this map of Manatee County fire districts, WMFR’s district, noted in orange, is nearly split down the middle by the City of Bradenton district, marked in white. WMFR shares an eastern border with Cedar Hammock, marked in light blue, the district which separates WMFR from Southern Manatee fire district. - Manatee County Supervisor of Elections Office | Submitted

BRADENTON – There’s been a lot of talk about a proposed merger between West Manatee, Southern Manatee, and Cedar Hammock fire districts, but, until Cedar Hammock’s leadership commits to a feasibility study, it’s all just talk.

During the July 16 WMFR commission meeting, Commissioner George Harris, who first brought up the idea of a merger, said that without Cedar Hammock in agreement, the idea is done. The reason that Cedar Hammock is the lynchpin for the deal is that fire districts can only merge with districts they share a contiguous border with according to the state statutes governing special districts. While WMFR does share a border with Cedar Hammock, out of the two, only Cedar Hammock shares a border with Southern Manatee.

Harris said that he’d spoken with the board chairman at Cedar Hammock who agreed to consider the proposal.

“I found him to be an enlightened individual who is quite apparently an out-of-the-box thinking commissioner,” Harris said. “He committed to looking at it.”

In addition to speaking with the chairman, Harris said he was encouraged to speak with other Cedar Hammock commissioners. His intent, he said, is to meet with all of the commissioners and their challengers to discuss the idea of a merger.

Before a merger can become reality, all three districts must agree to consider the possibility and financially commit to a feasibility study conducted by an independent organization. If a feasibility study is conducted and finds that the merger would be beneficial to all three districts and their residents, it would eventually fall to the voters in each district to decide if a merger happens. If at any point in the process one of the districts’ leadership determines the merger is not in their district’s best interests, the merger would fall apart.

While his fellow WMFR commissioners are willing to entertain the idea of a merger with the impending sale of the district’s administration building and the end of Fire Chief Tom Sousa’s contract in three years, they have not voted to commit any resources to the project.

“I’ve high hopes we will be able to make continuous progress,” Harris said.

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