The Margate-Coconut Creek Fire Department is Recognized as One of the Best in Florida

LETTER FROM MARGATE CITY COMMISSION ANTHONY CAGGIANO - The accolades and awards earned by our Department, over the last two years alone, are staggeringly impressive. I have joked with the Chief about the constant need to budget money for new award cabinets. So with this unparalleled phenomenal relationship, Why? and Why now? does Coconut Creek want to end it?

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At the Coconut Creek ZOOM Commission Meeting on Wednesday, Commissioner after Commissioner parroted their City Managers line, “That Margate refused to join the Coral Springs 911 Dispatch Center, when they said they would.” The truth is we would be happy to join the Coral Springs 911 dispatch system. Joining that system, at today’s pricing, would cost our residents $20,000,000.00 over the next decade and force us to raise taxes to afford it. All we asked, is that Coconut Creek extend our internationally award winning 20 year partnership for the next decade. Our residents/their residents need to know that we are together for the long run. Our Finance Department needs to know for budget planning purposes. Our Firefighters need to know that they have financial security for the next decade. What was never said in the meeting was that in all of our past contracts there was a ONE YEAR out clause. Think about this, even with a 10 year contract they still had an opportunity to leave, at any time, if they really felt they had to and still refused to do so!

Another line that was said over and over, “The cost to our residents have gone up over the last decade.”

Of course, costs have gone up over the years. Our First Responders have a step pay plan and a COLA (Cost of Living Adjustment) with small raises given each year. We are constantly maintaining and replacing aging equipment. With the population increases in our mutual cities, mostly in Coconut Creek, we have had to increase personnel and equipment.

In 2017, the Margate City Commission voted to hire 13 Firefighters, the largest increase in personnel in over a decade (Five to replace those that retired and eight additional firefighters). They were needed to reduce overtime and injury costs, increasing our ability to make sure every Firefighter returned to their family safely.

In addition, we added a free cancer screening program for our Firefighters, because of their constant proximity to contaminated, cancer causing, situations. I have had Firefighters personally thank me (and the Commission) for providing this screening. Health issues have been caught early and have been treated.

As Mayor, last year, I along with my City Manager sat down with Coconut Creeks previous and current City Manager to discuss our moving forward. I shared with them over and over that, I wanted them to pay their fair share. I said that, I didn’t want them to pay one penny more than they should, and that we would not subsidize them one penny. We weren’t treating them as a profit center, we were treating them as a respected partner.

Our discussions went nowhere.

Again, of course, costs have gone up over the last decade. We have had a significant call volume increase over the last ten years which has a ripple effect on Firefighters, equipment and vehicles. Other than TV’s, what costs have gone down over the last decade! Does Coconut Creek actually believe that if they run their own Fire Department they won’t see costs rise as the years go by? Plus, let’s not forget the startup costs associated with going out on their own!

Margate has another issue that we have to figure into our future. On top of the $20 million that the Coral Springs 911 system will cost our residents, we will increase costs by $20 million over the next decade on Station #98. Margate and Coconut Creek are sharing the cost on that station and once/whenever Coconut Creek builds their third station, the $20 million cost will be ours entirely to bear. The reason we keep asking Coconut Creek to sign a long term contract with us before we committed to the new 911 system, is to know where we stand, were all of us stand. We needed to know before we made an additional $20 million commitment that our partner of 20 years still wanted to partner with us.

Margate could not forecast: employment, equipment and infrastructure needs when every morning it’s waking up and wondering if its partner of 20 years was going to file for a divorce. Margate never wanted a divorce, we were asking to renew our vows.

Why now?

Why now during a pandemic, when consistency and stability is needed for the residents of both our cities and First Responders?

Who is going to be covering the area once covered by Station #98 after our separation and before Coconut Creek is able to pick up the coverage area?

How many years will it take to build Station #113, which studies said was needed to cover the center of Coconut Creek, FOUR years ago?

Why during a ZOOM (teleconferencing) meeting, when the residents, especially older residents that use EMS services the most, couldn’t show up and state their case did they make such a huge decision?

Why was transparency abandoned and comments restricted to a 6pm deadline the day before the meeting?

Why would they do this without 1 single backup vehicle in their “fleet”?

Why would they think that 48 hour on / 96 hour shifts off for First Responders would be safe for them or the residents? Especially in the brutally hot months (June - September)?

Why did Coconut Creek Commissioners and their City Manager ignore Firefighter comments that no Florida city other than Marco Island (population 17,800) uses this system?

It is impossible for any department tasked with servicing the public to hold costs down, while its population is rapidly expanding without decreasing the quality of its services.

Look…Coconut Creek has every right to separate from Margate and create its own Fire Department, that is their choice. Remember though, working together since Coconut Creek joined Margate 20 years ago, we have established a Fire Department that is the envy of almost every other department in Florida.

Every relationship has ups and downs, in my opinion we are stronger together.

- Margate City Commission, Anthony Caggiano

acaggiano@margatefl.com

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