By: Marisa Gottesman Associate Editor
Delray Beach isn’t ready to sever a more than 20 year relationship with its southern neighbor, the town of Highland Beach.
But Highland Beach could be ready to cut ties. The town has until May to decide who it wants to provide its fire rescue services, according to a recent contract amendment approved by Delray officials.
Delray commissioners decided it was best to continue providing the town fire rescue services if the municipalities can come to an agreement that makes financial sense. But it may be too little too late for the town.
The current contract is set to expire on Sept. 30, 2017 and the topic has been centered on a series of contentious negotiations between officials.
“Both communities benefit from the relationship,” Mayor Cary Glickstein said. “This too is worth saving.”
The relationship began in 1993 and a report from Fire Rescue Chief Danielle Connor stated that the municipalities have had little issue working together until recently. She called the relationship “harmonious and professional.”
Despite the positive overview, Connor and City Manager Don Cooper recommended ending the relationship so the city can focus on improving its own department.
A scuffle came in 2010 over Highland Beach not fulfilling a contractual obligation to replace an outdated fire truck. Because the truck was costly, the topic had to be approved by residents in an election. Highland Beach residents didn’t approve the purchase of the truck, which led to the continued use of the outdated truck.
A new proposed contract aimed to fix the issue by turning over equipment responsibilities to Delray officials.
Highland Beach commissioners had approved a new proposal, which addressed the replacement of equipment. But when the proposal came before Delray commissioners, they demanded more money from the town. Subsequently, Highland Beach commissioners rescinded its vote on the proposed contract that Delray nixed.
Delray commissioners said they felt the city was subsidizing a lot of the costs for the town. They tacked on a 20 percent administrative fee, which offended Highland Beach officials.
Now, the city wants to go back to the negotiating table to come up with a deal that works.
In addition to Delray’s financial concerns, Cooper said Highland Beach officials have concerns over the number of paramedic calls the Highland Beach station is responding to in Delray.
Officials will have to hash out a new agreement that satisfies both municipalities if they are both interested in keeping a deal.
Commissioners said the Highland station is crucial for Delray because of its location. The city only has one station east of the Intracoastal.
“A true focus on Delray Fire Rescue would include that Highland Beach station,” Commissioner Al Jacquet said. “We need that location.”
Chief Connor said Highland Beach is the immediate back up for the city’s second busiest station. Without the Highland station, city officials said it is likely Delray would have to build a substation to handle the amount of emergency calls.
Commissioners agreed the new deal has to make financial sense as well. Commissioner Jordana Jarjura said she wants to see an analysis of what it would cost the city if it were to lose the Highland station. The city would have to absorb about 22 employees and possibly construct a new substation.
“The present contract is ripe for improvements,” Glickstein said. “A fair and responsible agreement can be achieved. I think we should take the lead on this.”