Highland Beach/Delray Beach: Officials agree to continue working on fire contract after fee dispute

By Rich Pollack

A war of words that started after Delray Beach commissioners rejected a proposed fire-service agreement with Highland Beach appears to be at a ceasefire, with both sides deciding to come to the table to try to hammer out a workable contract.
In March, Delray Beach City Manager Don Cooper, Fire Chief Danielle Connor and Finance Director Jack Warner met with representatives from Highland Beach to discuss an agreement in which the larger city would continue to provide fire and paramedic services to the smaller coastal town.
“I’m very confident we’ll be able to work this out,” Cooper said.
Highland Beach Town Commissioner Carl Feldman, who was in the meeting, is also optimistic about an agreement being reached. He said, however, that the town is also talking to other possible providers, including Palm Beach County Fire Rescue and Boynton Beach Fire Rescue. Highland Beach town leaders also have interest in hearing the result of a study being done exploring the possibility of a coastal fire district.
“Something good will come as a result of all of these meetings and it will benefit our residents as well as residents of surrounding communities,” Feldman said. “Everything is going along right on schedule and we’re very pleased with what we’re hearing.”
During the meeting with Highland Beach, Delray Beach representatives discussed terms of a proposed 10-year-contract in which the city would staff the town’s fire station. Under the agreement, personnel from Delray Beach would continue to staff and operate a ladder truck the town currently leases from Delray Beach and a rescue vehicle owned by Highland Beach.
The current agreement between the two municipalities expires in September 2017.
Highland Beach officials say they will review the proposal and respond at an April meeting.
“We’re hoping to find common ground,” said Highland Beach Town Manager Beverly Brown.
Brown said both Delray Beach and Highland Beach leaders are optimistic that an agreement can be worked out that would allow the two communities to continue a business relationship.
“We all agreed that we have a long-term relationship beneficial to both of us that we’d like to continue,” Brown said.
Still, she said, the town is keeping its options open.
Highland Beach town officials ended 2015 thinking they had reached an agreement with Delray Beach on a $3.3 million annual contract. In fact, town officials had even signed the proposed agreement.
Delray Beach commissioners, however, balked, saying it appeared the city would lose money under the proposed contract. The City Commission voted to add a 20 percent administrative fee to the proposal.
“There was a perception that Delray Beach was subsidizing Highland Beach,” Cooper said.
Highland Beach officials, however, later discovered the rescue truck stationed in town — and owned by the town — responded to about 35 calls per month in nearby areas of Delray Beach.
That information, as well as other revelations, led Delray Beach commissioners to suggest reopening negotiations.
“The notion that Highland Beach gets more out of this than we do is not factually accurate,” Mayor Cary Glickstein said.
At their workshop meeting in March, Highland Beach commissioners agreed to extend a deadline for a new contract into April. The original deadline was March 30.

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