Gulf Stream: Town to consider fire service alternatives

The Gulf Stream Town Commission poses with the Palm Beach County League of Cities’  Defender of Home Rule trophy awarded at a May luncheon. PHOTO: (l-r) Town Manager William Thrasher, Commissioners Tom Stanley, Donna White , Joan Orthwein, Mayor Scott Morgan, Vice Mayor Robert Ganger and outgoing League president, Mayor Steve Wilson of Belle Glade. Photo provided

By Dan Moffett

Gulf Stream town commissioners want to explore the possibility of forging partnerships with other neighboring coastal communities to handle fire and emergency medical services.
The move toward coalition-building comes in the wake of new rumblings in Delray Beach about eliminating the city-run Fire Department and contracting with Palm Beach County. Delray currently provides fire services to Gulf Stream and Highland Beach, and cost to the towns would soar if they have to find other providers.
“For a lot of people, this looks like a seminal event that Delray is going through,” said Gulf Stream Vice Mayor Robert Ganger. “Inevitably, it’s going to cost us more, no matter what.”
Commissioners hope to find support from Highland Beach, Ocean Ridge and others for a study to assess the prospect of collaborating on services, perhaps even creating a barrier island fire district.
“It’s a big jigsaw puzzle that has to be very carefully put together,” Ganger said. “It absolutely has to start with a study.”
The worries about the Delray Beach contract, which expires in 2019, surfaced during a rare afternoon meeting on May 13 to consider long-range planning and budget matters. The special session filled the Town Hall chamber with about three dozen residents.
Mayor Scott Morgan said the commission is considering raising the town’s tax rate about 15 percent — from $3.90 per $1,000 of assessed property values to $4.50 — to replenish general fund reserves that have been depleted by several years of legal battles with residents Martin O’Boyle and Chris O’Hare.
Morgan said the town has about $750,000 in reserve but should have at least twice that to cover emergency expenses. He said the tax hike should  put another $800,000 into the town’s coffers and offset its legal costs.
“Gulf Stream is way below other towns, even at 4.5 mills,” Morgan said.
Town Manager William Thrasher gave commissioners another reason to have a healthy reserve fund: aging water lines. Thrasher said most of the town’s water infrastructure is 50 to 80 years old and prone to costly failures. Three years ago, it took about $1.5 million to fix a broken pipe along A1A. Thrasher said the town would need about $8 million to replace all the old lines, but only about $4.8 million of that amount would have to be done in the next 10 to 20 years.
The commission has two discretionary projects on its wish list: expanding Town Hall, and replacing the aging maintenance building in back of it. “It’s a 1930s facility in a 2015 town,” Ganger said.
In other business:
• After a couple of months of negotiating with developer Tom Laudani, commissioners signed off on his plan to build two adjacent houses at 3410 and 3424 N. Ocean Blvd.
Morgan led a chorus of commissioner complaints that the original designs were too  similar and violated town rules aimed at preventing speculative “cookie cutter” development. Laudani, whose Seaside Builders company built Harbour View Estates several years ago, agreed to make architectural changes to the houses to satisfy the commission.
• The Palm Beach County League of Cities has honored Gulf Stream with two awards that recognize the town’s handling of the public records disputes with O’Boyle and O’Hare.
The league gave the town its Defender of Home Rule Award and gave Thrasher its William “Bill” Moss Memorial Award. Named for the former West Palm Beach city commissioner, the Moss award goes to public servants who demonstrate “exemplary involvement, support and dedication to the priorities, principles and programs of the League of Cities.” Ú

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Comment by Christopher O'Hare on June 4, 2015 at 2:41am

When I was a kid I had the pleasure and honor of being invited to go hunting with the late Senate President Randolph Hodges on a section of land he owned in Cedar Key. In attendance was Randolph's son Gene, a House Rep., Senator Don Childers, Sen. Childers' son Tim, and some other conservative dems. The hunt camp was nothing more than a circle of old motor homes and wood shacks surrounded by ancient pine and cedar trees deep in the north Florida woods. On the menu: white rice, okra, venison stew and fried mullet. The surprise guest who showed up in time for Saturday's supper, dressed for hunting but more inclined to talking was Lawton Chiles.


Pardon all the name dropping but its fundamental to this story.


Sitting around the fire pit with muddy boots and an assortment of sleepy dogs, these powerful State leaders seemed to all want to opine about Home Rule. Governor Chiles seemed particularly miffed at the newly created  City-States. My memory of the discussion is hazy, I didn't know the half of what was said. But on reflection I think I understood the sentiments being expressed.


I watched over the years as the State Legislature tried to regain some  local control by mandating Comprehensive Land Use Plans, an effort all but ignored today, and Concurrency laws which seem less and less enforced as local governments chase any project that promises to increase their tax base.


The Legislature has been slowly taking back the power it bestowed on Town's like Gulf Stream by enacting laws designed to preempt local authority on issue the State believes it alone is constitutionally entitled to regulate. Gulf Stream routinely ignores these preemptive laws with the apparent blessing of some local courts.


So I guess it is appropriate that the League of Cities (a lobby organization created for the benefit of its members - not necessarily the public) should award Gulf Stream with its Defender of Home Rule Award. After all, no other municipality complains more about pesky State law or comes close to City-State status like this Fiefdom-by-the-Sea.

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