By Margie Plunkett
Gulf Stream will pay $286,250 annually for fire rescue services provided by Delray Beach, an 80 percent increase from last year and an amount some argued should have been higher.
During a special meeting late in July to approve the contract, Mayor William Koch offered perspective on prices of fire services: In 1947, Gulf Stream paid $500 a year for fire services. In 1939, it cost $12 for a fire call.
And from another angle, consider that Gulf Stream is wrestling with a budget shortfall next fiscal year — like most municipalities, thanks to the housing market plunge — of $125,000, roughly equal to the difference in the price of the new fire contract and the $159,000 paid last year.
The rise in the final fire contract doubled from the 40 percent increase in a $229,000 contract Gulf Stream commissioners earlier approved after Delray Beach submitted it before commissioners there had reviewed the agreement.
The price tag on the new 10-year contract, which includes a yearly cost-of-living adjustment, will not climb again when Delray Beach hires another firefighter to fully staff Fire Station No. 2 — the primary firehouse for Gulf Stream. The premature contract would have.
Station No. 2’s rescue transport is idle after its paramedic team was transferred to the understaffed fire engine. While that raised the status of the engine’s rescue capabilities, the closest available rescue transport from other stations now joins the No. 2 engine in response to Gulf Stream calls.
Delray Beach Town Manager David Harden said during his City Commission’s July 7 meeting that the initial contract offered did not incorporate the city’s investment in fire station facilities and its capital investment. The latest pact adds a 25 percent surcharge for those costs. “Probably all of us have struggled with this a great deal,” said Commissioner Fred Fetzer. But in the end, he called it “logical.” Mayor Woodie McDuffie said, “I believe this is fair and equitable, something we can justify” and, as Fetzer had pointed out, substantiate by law.
Commissioner Adam Frankel argued the price should be higher. The Gulf Stream fire contract equals $399.79 per capita, which Frankel said was more than $200 less per capita than any other locale. “It’s important to be fair with our neighbors, but it’s low,” he said. “I think we have to respect the budgets of our neighbors, but we have to respect our budget, too.”
Harden, though, said Briny Breezes pays a per capita rate of $524 for fire services and Ocean Ridge pays $429. He also pointed out that Delray Beach doesn’t have a fire station in Gulf Stream.
Gulf Stream Mayor Koch spoke at the Delray Beach meeting, graciously telling commissioners, “Thank you for considering our problems,” reminding them of the bonds the two cities have shared throughout the years and noting the contributions Gulf Stream residents make to Delray Beach in spending and philanthropy. The increase in the fire contract is great and it doesn’t take into account that Gulf Stream doesn’t require costly specialized services including hook-and-ladder equipment and chemical trucks, Koch said.
“We just need good personnel, ambulance service and a fire truck. Most of our calls are false alarms.”