By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony was a no-show Wednesday for a meeting of Broward mayors and other representatives of more than a dozen municipalities that contract, or are considering contracting, with BSO for expensive police and/or fire rescue services.
Cooper City Mayor Greg Ross, who convened the meeting, called Tony’s late Wednesday morning decision not to attend the 1 p.m. gathering – or send a BSO representative – “very disappointing.”
Broward Mayor Steve Geller told the group that while he “understands the concerns” about a lack of communication and escalating costs – specifically noting that BSO demands for 5 percent annual increases is not sustainable – he also made it clear that the county has very limited control over the sheriff, a largely independent constitutional officer.
Yet Geller offered some practical advice to the cities: if BSO is charging unreasonable rates, consider going elsewhere – specifically, try joining with a larger municipality with its own police or fire department to form a regional partnership.
“BSO has no competition,” said Geller. “Introduce an element of competition.”
One former BSO city, Southwest Ranches, did that in 2014 when it contracted with nearby Davie to patrol its streets and supplement the town’s volunteer fire department.
Margate and BSO
Margate is now in talks with BSO about having it take over the city’s fire rescue services after its current partner, Coconut Creek, decided to end its longtime relationship – without explanation, according to Margate Mayor Arlene Schwartz.
Schwartz told the group that Margate was “one commission meeting from going with BSO for fire rescue.”
“Don’t go!” blurted out Hallandale Beach Mayor Joy Cooper, who was attending the meeting via telephone. To laughter, Cooper said, “I thought I was muted.”
Clearly, though, Schwartz isn’t enamored with BSO’s $15.5-million proposal. “We’re told we’ll save money in the long run, but I’m not sure I’ll still be alive when that happens, from what I’m hearing,” she said.
Mayor Cooper said she’s “been fighting tooth and nail” to get out of her city’s fire rescue contract with BSO that began in January 2020, adding that she’s been “pressing to contract with a third party.”
“This isn’t about boots on the ground. The unions have put the fear factor on residents. This is about managing contracts,” she said.
Cooper City out front
Cooper City, which merged its police and fire services with BSO 17 years ago, has been out front in seeking to form a unified municipal front to deal with BSO. “Unified we have better leverage in negotiating with BSO,” he wrote in an email last month to the mayors of all 13 cities that contract with BSO.
According to Mayor Ross, the city currently pays BSO “just shy of $25 million” for annual police and fire services, with built-in 5 percent increases per year. Ross, and several other mayors, called BSO’s financial demands “unsustainable.”
Ross said the sheriff offered no reason for changing his mind and refusing to participate at Wednesday’s meeting. Previously, in an emailed response to a note Ross sent to fellow mayors of BSO contract cities inviting them to the meeting, Tony said Ross’s allegations about cost and lack of control “is not even remotely close to having merit.”
Other municipalities that sent a representative or appeared via telephone included Dania Beach, North Lauderdale, Oakland Park, Parkland, Pembroke Park, Pompano Beach, Tamarac and West Park.
The appearance by phone of West Park Mayor Felicia Brunson was curious. Her only comment was to disavow statements made earlier by West Park resident Katrina Touchstone, who complained strenuously about a lack of adequate services by BSO.
“She doesn’t speak for West Park,” said Brunson, who said her tiny municipality is happy with its BSO contract.
The participating cities agreed to meet again at Cooper City’s City Hall on Oct. 26.