Like 28 other municipalities, the city of North Miami Beach relies on Miami-Dade County to provide fire-rescue services. And, like many other elected officials in these cities, I wonder if we are being presented a false choice — accept either higher taxes or else cut vital fire-rescue services.
In my city, we face the closing of Rescue Station 78 on Sunny Isles Boulevard near the Intracoastal Waterway. This station services an area challenged logistically by drawbridges and railroad crossings. The county’s own analysis demonstrated recently that keeping this station open is the only way to adequately serve and protect the eastern areas of our city.
To save our rescue station, city officials were urged to accept a higher county property tax rate for the coming fiscal year. This tax increase, we were told, would offset the deficit in the county’s fire-rescue operations which are funded by a separate, dedicated property tax assessed on all properties that rely on Miami-Dade Fire Rescue.
We need to take a long, hard look at the finances and operations of Miami-Dade Fire Rescue. We need to know if we can maintain existing services — or even enhance them — without raising taxes, and within the department’s existing budget.
It’s been widely reported that the department is top heavy. Roughly one in three personnel holds the rank of lieutenant, captain or chief. There also are questions on why we keep roughly the same number of four-person fire trucks and three-person rescue trucks when the overwhelming majority of calls for service are for medical emergencies.
Finally, it’s been suggested that we can save considerable money by cutting costs for the county’s rarely used fire boat. All of these are valid areas of inquiry and debate.
We’re undergoing just such a process in my city with our police department.
We are evaluating and analyzing the services we provide, the true cost of those services, and how they compare to similar municipalities.
Our goal is to provide the highest level of policing at a cost that is both reasonable and sustainable.
I implore Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez and the Board of County Commissioners to do the same with the Fire Rescue Department. My colleagues and I, in municipalities dependent on Miami-Dade Fire-Rescue, need to feel a lot more comfortable knowing the county thoroughly and carefully explored all available options. Only then can we give serious consideration to accepting a choice of raising taxes or cutting services.
George Vallejo, mayor,
North Miami Beach