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UPDATE: Dwyer High School in Gardens will be open Tuesday

Extra $17 million in fire tax adds responder on trucks for 3 stations

Palm Beach County Fire-Rescue is adding a third firefighter to rescue trucks at each of three stations that are among the tops in calls and transports, and may soon do the same at a fourth station, Chief Jeffrey Collins told a county commission workshop on Tuesday.

The extra $452,678 a year it will cost is part of the $402 million budget county commissioners approved for 2016-2017, and would rise to $559,533 a year by budget year 2020-2021, Collins said.

The 2016-2017 budget also includes a net gain of nine firefighters, he said.

Higher property values allowed the special fire-rescue taxing district to collect an extra $17 million this year while leaving unchanged its rate of $3.46 per $1,000 of taxable property value. The rate is set by the county commission and is separate from the county’s general tax rate and those of other taxing districts.

The three stations are Station 35, across from the Lantana airport, which is tops in the county in calls handled; Station 39 in Palm Springs, which is second in responses; and Station 47 at Boynton Beach Boulevard and Florida’s Turnpike, which is fourth.

The third busiest station, Station 16 near Abacoa, is part of a special taxing district in Jupiter, and adding a firefighter there requires approval by the city, Collins said. Talks are underway for that.

Collins said adding a third person for all 21 two-person rescue trucks would have cost more than $9 million a year just in budget year 2017-2018, which would have meant seeking a tax rate increase to $3.59 per $1,000 of taxable property value. That would have risen to $11.75 million in budget year 2020-2021, calling for a tax rate of $3.60 per $1,000.

Fire-Rescue already has 24 three-person trucks.

The agency handles 132,716 calls a year. It has 1,510 budgeted positions and 49 stations and covers 1,762 square miles, an area nearly as big as the state of Delaware.

Collins’ capital improvement plan through 2021 calls for several new stations:

  • Construction of a new Station 22 already is approved. The station now sits at Seminole-Pratt Whitney Road in the new town of Westlake, the former Minto West. The location of the new station will be a fourth of a mile north, where Westlake is donating the land. At their Nov. 22 meeting, commissioners approved changing the boundaries of their Municipal Service Taxing Unit for fire-rescue to include the new town.

  • Another station already is approved for the area of La Chalet Boulevard and Military Trail, west of Boynton Beach, but Fire-Rescue still must select and buy the land for it.

  • The district also plans to build a station near 20-Mile-Bend, to serve the Arden community — formerly Highland Dunes — west of Royal Palm Beach.
  • And it plans three in the Palm Beach County Agricultural Reserve, an area west of Boynton Beach and Delray Beach designated for agriculture and conservation where a political battle is being waged over the extent of development allowed there.

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