By Angie Francalancia
Another budget year approaches in Boynton Beach, and another round of discussions has begun on closing Fire Station #1 that handles calls in Ocean Ridge.
During the second day of Boynton Beach’s budget workshops, Commissioner Steven Holzman said the city could almost balance its fire department budget by closing Station #1 and laying off six of the firefighters that now staff it and moving the other three to Station #4 on Federal Highway near Woolbright Road.
The city has agreed to once again hold a workshop to discuss closing the station. It’s tentatively scheduled to take place in October, after the new budget year begins.
If Boynton Beach laid off six firefighters at Station #1 it could save about $435,000, the amount in contractual raises Boynton Beach has promised in collective bargaining agreements.
But the move could jeopardize its annual $900,000 contract with Ocean Ridge for fire service, cautioned Lori LaVerriere, Boynton Beach's interim city manager. While there’s nothing in the contract that specifies which station would serve Ocean Ridge residents, LaVerrier said Ocean Ridge felt it was implied that Station #1 would serve them.
“We need to take ocean Ridge out of our decision,” Holzman said.
Ocean Ridge Police Chief Chris Yannuzzi, who coordinates all public safety for the town, has said he’s concerned about response times and has collected data showing the response times for calls.
Late last year, officials from both towns had agreed to explore the possibility of housing Boynton’s Fire Station #1 at Ocean Ridge Town Hall. That move would have preserved the close proximity of a fire station for both Ocean Ridge and Boynton Beach’s downtown residents. But that idea was put on hold earlier this year, Boynton Fire Chief Ray Carter said, because the city got no acceptable bids on three pieces of property it was looking to sell that would have financed a larger police station. Boynton wants to use Station #1 to expand its police headquarters. On Tuesday, Carter raised issues about the cost of renovating Ocean Ridge’s garage.
Ocean Ridge Town Manager Ken Schenck said he’s never seen a cost analysis.
“To the best of my knowledge, nobody has looked at numbers for this,” Schenck said. “It never got that far.”
— Mary Kate Leming contributed to this story