Related story: Higher cost estimates could scuttle fire district plan
By Rich Pollack
Another deadline for when Highland Beach has to let Delray Beach know if it plans to continue contracting with the city for fire and rescue services has come and gone — and still no decision has been reached.
Negotiations are continuing, however, with both municipalities agreeing to extend the deadline for 90 days.
“Extending the deadline gives us the opportunity to continue negotiating further,” Highland Beach Town Manager Beverly Brown said.
While town officials continue back-and-forth talks with Delray Beach representatives, Highland Beach is also exploring the possibility of contracting with Palm Beach County Fire Rescue.
Currently, Delray Beach staffs a Highland Beach-owned fire station adjacent to Highland Beach’s Town Hall. The town owns a 10-year-old rescue wagon and rents a fire truck from Delray Beach for $8,500 a month.
Brown said the town had discussions with Boynton Beach officials but ruled out contracting with that city’s Fire Rescue Department because of concerns over the time it would take for a backup rescue or fire truck to respond in an emergency.
Also still under consideration is the possibility of Highland Beach joining a proposed barrier island fire district being explored by six municipalities. But Brown said there are several issues that could prevent the town from partnering with others.
“It’s not as viable an option as it once was,” she said, citing start-up expenses and backup response times.
Discussions regarding a new 10-year fire-rescue service agreement between Delray Beach and its smaller neighbor have been going on for months. At one point this year, an agreement seemed unlikely after Delray Beach commissioners proposed adding a 20 percent administrative fee to the proposed $3.5 million annual contract.
Negotiations resumed, however, after representatives from both municipalities realized they could benefit from continuing the partnership.
“The notion that Highland Beach gets more out of this than we do is not factually accurate,” Delray Beach Mayor Cary Glickstein said during discussions in March.
Brown said she does not think delays in reaching an agreement with either Delray Beach or Palm Beach County will affect Highland Beach’s ability to have a fire rescue service provider in place by the time the current contract expires in September 2017.