Miami-Dade County Fire Rescue provides great service, but at what cost? Go take a look at your property tax bill.
It will show that you pay more for fire services than you do for operating the entire Pinecrest government. That includes police, parks and recreation, Pinecrest Gardens, public works, building and planning, etc. — the whole enchilada. It’s time once again to look seriously at whether we would benefit by establishing our own fire department. The county’s fire rescue services presently cost us $8.9 million annually. Several years ago, the Village appealed to the City of Coral Gables to provide our fire services using their Old Cutler Road station, plus one on U.S. 1 that we would build and they would manage. Had we succeeded, the Village would have saved $3.1 million annually in each of the past five years. We might have produced a tax savings of more than $360 annually for the owner of a Pinecrest home assessed at $500,000. A study commissioned recently by the Village concluded that this was still an option worth pursuing.
Should we decide to establish our own fire department, the study projected a first-year cost of $16 million. Of this amount, $6.25 million would be needed to develop and construct a fire station. After this expense, we could expect to realize the same $3.1 million annual savings in perpetuity.
Creating our own fire department would still entitle us to the same specialized regional services MDFR provides to cities with existing fire departments and nonincorporated areas alike. These include helicopter medical rescue, hazardous material and anti-venom response teams. Right now, MDFR charges an ambulance transport fee of $895. We could choose not to charge residents for transport.
As one of several possible service scenarios, the study concludes that one centrally located, 8,000-square-foot station in Pinecrest would provide adequate coverage. Village Manager Yocie Gomez says we could disguise the structure to look like a single-family home and surround it with heavy foliage to minimize neighborhood impact.
We would hope to ink an automatic aid agreement with Coral Gables to provide the occasional backup. Miami-Dade County would continue to respond to fire calls when asked through a mutual aid agreement.
Mayor Cindy Lerner has claimed that establishing our own fire department would “bankrupt the village.” Our manager, who started Key Biscayne’s fire department from scratch, disagrees.
The manager has described a worst-case, two fire-station solution – building a new station on U.S. 1 and buying back the county’s station by Pinecrest Gardens for the $500,000 originally paid. She conservatively estimates that under this scenario, starting our own department would produce an immediate savings of $750,000 in years one through five and $1.9 million annually thereafter. These numbers include financing costs.
Savings could revert to residents in the form of lower taxes – at least $240 annually for the owner of a home assessed at $500,000. The manager told Council that the savings could be considerably greater depending upon the path chosen.
While America already has 30,125 fire departments, the mayor insists in alarmist tones that starting another (ours) would be nearly impossible.
Pending further investigation, I believe Council should consider putting this issue on the ballot for the public to decide. Interestingly, the mayor agrees with me. At this point, however, a focus on fact gathering rather than fear mongering would be in the public interest.