By Rich Pollack
Plans to have Delray Beach continue to provide fire and rescue services to Highland Beach residents after a current contract expires next year hit a snag Feb. 2 when Delray Beach commissioners rejected a proposed agreement in which the small town would pay an annual fee of $3.3 million.
In what amounts to a counter-proposal, Delray Beach representatives will now go back to the town with a request for an additional 20 percent administrative fee, which would raise annual costs to Highland Beach by about $660,000.
Under the original proposal, in the works for several years, Delray Beach would have continued providing services to Highland Beach at what had been calculated as the city’s costs.
But Delray Beach commissioners expressed concerns with the cost estimates, saying they weren’t quite accurate because they did not include intangibles such as training expenses nor did they address variables in staffing expenses and pension costs.
“This doesn’t work for me,” said Delray Beach Vice Mayor Shelly Petrolia, who proposed a 25 percent administrative fee. “They’re benefiting off of our city.”
Other commissioners agreed.
“There’s no reason for us to do this if we’re breaking even,” said Commissioner Mitch Katz. “I agree with the vice mayor that there has to be some administrative costs.”
Mayor Cary Glickstein said he was not completely comfortable with charging Highland Beach a 25 percent fee, which would have brought the town’s annual bill up to over $4 million.
“I don’t like the concept of profiting off of another city,” Glickstein said.
But Petrolia said she didn’t think that was the case. “I don’t think it’s profiting,” she said. “I think it’s recovering our costs.”
Delray Beach Finance Director Jack Warner and Fire-Rescue Chief Danielle Connor told commissioners that they did not think Highland Beach officials would accept the 25 percent increase. That led Glickstein to ask if there would be a negative impact to the city if it no longer served Highland Beach.
Connor said the city would need to absorb about 22 positions that it currently has assigned to Highland Beach and would no longer be able to rely on apparatus stationed in the town as a back-up. Overall, she said, the city would not suffer greatly if it no longer provided fire service to Highland Beach.
“They probably need us more than we need them,” she said.
In the end, commissioners agreed on a 20 percent administrative fee and also on a laundry list of conditions that would allow Delray to recoup many unplanned costs.
Under the current contract, Highland Beach pays Delray Beach Fire-Rescue to provide staffing for a ladder truck and a rescue truck, which operate out of a town-owned fire station.
Highland Beach now pays $8,500 a month to use a Delray Beach ladder truck, but continues to operate its own 10-year-old rescue truck. As part of the original proposed agreement, Delray Beach would have bought new apparatus and leased it back to the town over a 10-year period.
Prior to the signing off on the now-rejected agreement with Delray Beach, town officials had spoken with Palm Beach County Fire Rescue and fire rescue departments in both Boca Raton and Boynton Beach. It was deter-mined, however, that Delray Beach would be the most cost effective and efficient option.
By Rich Pollack