Pompano, Deerfield scuffle to provide fire service in community

By Lisa J. Huriash
Staff Writer
Posted May 9 2003

POMPANO BEACH The city has put the clamps on a plan by Broward County to turn over fire-rescue service in the Pompano Highlands neighborhood to Deerfield Beach.

Pompano Beach said the county had no business talking about handing the neighborhood to a city that is competing with it for annexation rights.

The 6,500-population unincorporated area is sandwiched between Deerfield Beach and Pompano Beach. Both cities want to annex the 904-acre neighborhood in part because it has about $170 million in taxable value, according to a city study in 2000.

Assistant County Administrator Pete Corwin said the county is trying to wean off providing fire and paramedic services to the unincorporated areas.

"As the unincorporated area shrinks, it makes more sense for the [neighboring] cities to provide the service," he said. "From our perspective, it gives us an opportunity to focus on regional services such as the airport, port, technical rescue, air rescue."

The county began talking with Deerfield Beach in January about taking over the fire-rescue services at a cost of about $2.5 million annually, he said.

In an April 18 letter to County Administrator Roger Desjarlais, Pompano Beach City Manager William Hargett chided the county for the talks.

"I do not believe your exclusive negotiations with the city of Deerfield Beach represent the best interests of Broward County, the city of Pompano Beach or the residents of the Pompano Beach Highlands," he wrote. "I would like to respectfully suggest that Broward County should seek competitive proposals from both Pompano Beach and Deerfield Beach. Clearly, your decision to negotiate exclusively with Deerfield Beach will provide them a considerable advantage in a future annexation referendum."

Desjarlais said while the county talks with Deerfield Beach weren't meant to be a secret, it made sense to choose a city that was the closest to the neighborhood.

"We do think it's a great idea for cities to provide fire rescue service. ... They think there's some conspiracy about attempting to manipulate who has the leg-up on annexation, and that isn't true," he said.

His office responded with an April 25 letter extending the proposal offer to Pompano Beach.

"I think it's something we should cooperate with Pompano [particularly] if they perceive it to be an unfair advantage," said Deerfield Beach Commissioner Steve Gonot. "We have no problem letting them have an opportunity to compete, and they should have been brought in or at least known about it out of courtesy. I don't think it was intentional. Considering the sensitive nature, we should have at least let them know."

Whichever city wins the contract will have to decide what to do with the county's Fire Station 21, at 1951 NE 48th St., Corwin said.

"Station 21 is not perfectly located," he said. "We're asking each of the cities to give us an idea of what they'd like to do: use 21 or move it to a better site. [Station 21] is one of the older stations. It does not have a long life left."

Pompano Beach has a fire station at 3500 NE 16th Terrace in the Cresthaven neighborhood, about a block south of the Highlands, while Deerfield Beach's closest station is at 1401 SW 11th Way, about a mile west of Dixie Highway.

Jeanne Stewart, president of the Pompano Highlands Civic Improvement Association, said she's frustrated. She said all residents want is to be able to vote between the two cities. She said they were hoping to do it as recently as this year, but have been stymied by the state.

"This annexation -- I'm so sick of it," she said. "It's been going on for 15 years. We put in one bill after another and the state knocks them down."

The battle for annexation is nowhere near over. The Broward Legislative Delegation wants every area of the county to be part of a city by 2010. But the two northeastern cities have been fighting for years about which areas they want, and have accused each other of "cherry-picking" for the richest properties.

They've since agreed Deerfield Beach should annex all the neighborhoods north of Sample Road such as Tedder and Tallman Pines, and Pompano Beach should annex everything south of that such as Kendall Green.

Pompano Highlands, which borders Sample Road to the north, "is the only place we disagree," Hargett said.

The latest major action came in 2001 when an annexation subcommittee of state legislators killed the forced annexation of Pompano Highlands into Pompano Beach, which was proposed by some civic leaders in the area. The measure was opposed by Deerfield Beach. Pompano Highlands had voted against joining Pompano Beach two years before that.

Other unincorporated areas between the two cities include Crystal Lakes, The Lakes, Pompano Estates, Leisureville, Woodsetter North and Bonnie Loch. Only one in that area actually joined a city when Cresthaven voted to join Pompano Beach in 1999.

Hopefully the annexation woes can be resolved soon, said state Sen. Steve Geller, D-Hallandale Beach.

"There are problems like this throughout the state," he said. "We'll try it again next year."

Lisa J. Huriash can be reached at lhuriash@sun-sentinel.com or 954-356-4557.