Broward News

Broward Sheriff Visits Ocala to Pitch Sheriff-Controlled Fire Department

Broward Sheriff Al Lamberti was in Marion County earlier this week, singing the praises of his predecessor's decision to place countywide firefighting services under the auspices of the sheriff's office.

Monday's two-hour session was the first time the panel heard first-hand from the architects and practitioners of the model [Marion Sheriff Ed] Dean seeks to emulate.

"I'm not here to sell you anything," Lamberti told the committee and a roomful of about 50 senior county staffers, citizens and local officials. "We want to give you the benefit of our experience."

In 2003, Sheriff Ken Jenne (later sent to prison on corruption charges) unveiled a plan to take control of the ragtag bunch of fire departments that served unincorporated areas as well as a number of smaller Broward municipalities, parts of the Everglades, and the port. These services were previously run by the County Commission, which took criticism for not giving fire services the money and attention they needed.

But the BSO's takeover hasn't been free of problems. Read on.

Marion and Citrus counties are two of the areas mulling a similar move. In 2003, Jenne's takeover was (in theory, at least) not motivated primarily by the need to save money -- although proponents estimated that it would trim $900,000 from the county budget. Then-Broward Mayor Diana Wasserman-Rubin supported the move, but it saw opposition from commissioners Ilene Lieberman, Lori Parrish, and John Rodstrom.

Marion is being straightforward about its financial motivations:

Savings was foremost among the inquiries. The Broward officials said nailing down exact numbers was difficult, partly because they weren't clear on the effects of the merger on the non-public safety operations of the county's government. Broward Fire Chief Joseph Lello said the ballpark estimate for the total savings was about $3 million.

But Broward has proved that BSO control of firefighting is not a financial cure-all. Lauderdale Lakes is one of the many Broward communities that pays BSO for firefighting service... but this month it came to light that the municipality is $2.4 million behind in payments to BSO. Lamberti's response?

"As a result of this financial burden, we have no choice but to scale back services to the residents of Lauderdale Lakes. The ladder truck currently at Station 37 will be decommissioned (hopefully temporarily) in order to meet the lowered cost of providing fire service in the city."

"We've already proved it works," Lamberti said. "It doesn't make sense if you save money and it's not going to work."

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Stefan Kamph
Contact: Stefan Kamph