State Committee Orders Fire Dept. Audit On Behalf Of Highland Beach
Highland Beach, the tiny, doggedly self-determined beachfront town between Boca Raton and Delray Beach is now inquiring into potential malfeasance regarding its fire department payments. Since 1994, Highland Beach has "rented" fire rescue and EMS services from its northerly neighbor, Delray Beach. This is in part due to the small nature of the city, and A1A serving as its one central public road. The feasibility of the fire and EMS services has never been called into question, as Delray emergency services have never had difficulty reaching their calls.
In spring 2021, Highland Beach commissioners voted to create their own fire and EMS departments, citing high costs as the impetus for this investment. Highland Beach has claimed the increase in personnel and the added expenses were not agreed upon in the mutual contract. At the center of the dispute, lies one of the most egregious claims: that the city of Delray Beach failed to provide financial records supporting their expectations.
An Icy Showdown With Fire In Focus
Though the relationship on the ground has always been positive, and Highland Beach residents have nothing but praise for the servicemen and women of the Delray FD, Highland Beach has reason to believe there are financial games afoot. Prior to the municipal elections cycle in Palm Beach this past month, a state committee prepared an audit at the behest of Congresswoman Peggy Gossett-Seidman, a Highland Beach resident and state representative. An attempt to reach the congresswoman was unsuccessful, though her secretary took our information down and will update us as the case unfolds. It is unclear at this time if Congresswoman Seidman's interest in the audit is self-motivated by her residency or a genuine inquest into potential fiscal mismanagement. We expect that her locality helps her hyperfocus on local issues and that no ulterior motive is at play.
What is known is that Delray Beach leveed a 17% increase for fire rescue protection in 2022 - an expense of $781,881. Following a unanimous vote from Highland Beach commissioners to refuse payment. This would increase the overall cost from $4.7 to $5.4 million. For a quick breakdown of some of the crucial facts on both sides of the issue, read below:
- Delray Beach plans to increase its EMS personnel from 22.5 to 26.5, all four new employees would be lieutenants
- The move would enable a three-person response team to Highland Beach calls, which city commissioners deem unnecessary
- Highland Beach currently averages only three calls per day. Commissioners dispute the necessity of a three EMT team.
- Delray Beach projected overtime pay to increase 81% and fringe benefits by 37%.
- Delray Beach cited the rising cost of healthcare as the primary driver for the increase.
- From 2017 to 2019, Highland Beach-assigned personnel responded to 116 more calls in Delray Beach (1,427) than Highland Beach (1,311)
- Highland Beach expects to save more than $2M annually following the creation and rollout of its own department.
As more information unfurls, expect Champagne & Parisi Real Estate to to bring the latest developments in this back-and-forth tussle between these two competing entities.
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