Miami-Dade Voters to Decide Over Fire Rescue Services

MIAMI --

When you need one, there's nothing more important than a firefighter, but which department responds could be decided by a question on the ballot for Miami-Dade County voters.

A county charter amendment would create a uniform, countywide fire rescue service and essentially prohibit most small communities from starting their own fire departments.

"We have a good system," said Stan Hills, President of the International Association of Firefighters Local 1042, which represents Miami-Dade firefighters and urges a "yes" vote on the charter question.

Hills said a countywide system avoids a messy, confusing, and potentially expensive collection of fire departments whose services would overlap.

The countywide system, if approved, would exempt five existing independent fire departments: Miami, Miami Beach, Hialeah, Coral Gables and Key Biscayne.

Smaller communities are challenging the countywide system, accusing the county of a "power grab," said Gary Matzner, mayor of the Village of Pinecrest. Pinecrest pays about $9 million a year to Miami-Dade County for fire protection services, but negotiated with nearby Coral Gables for similar service at a reduced rate of about $5 million.

Matzner accused Miami-Dade County of being a "big brother" looking for cash in tough economic times, and said a "no" vote on the issue would protect the rights of smaller municipalities.

While voters will decide the question on Nov. 4, the votes on the fire protection question will not be immediately counted. Pinecrest and Indian Creek have sued over the right to negotiate their own fire protection arrangements, and a judge has ordered the vote results to be kept private until he has ruled in the case.

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