For over a year, the Village of Indiantown has been discussing the formation of its own Fire/Rescue Department.
Presently, the village is serviced by Martin County Fire/Rescue. They are charged the same for the service as unincorporated county residents and the Town of Ocean Breeze.
Jupiter Island has a Public Safety Department. Their officers are cross-trained first responders and police officers. Jupiter Island has their own apparatuses. They have an agreement with Martin County to provide a dedicated paramedic at their facility 24 hours a day 7 days per week.
The City of Stuart has had its own Fire/Rescue Department since 1914. The department predates the county’s incorporation in 1925. The Stuart department has an inter-local agreement to provide service to the Town of Sewall’s Point. The county and Stuart have a mutual aid interlocal agreement.
Stuart is in the densely populated urban northeastern portion of Martin County. It has two stations currently with a possibility of a third in the future. Martin County has several stations that are close to the boundaries of the city. It is quite easy for each department to back up the other. The units of both departments are dispatched by Martin County, so the closest available unit responds to an incident.
Most insurance companies rate their risk by using the system devised by the ISO (Insurance Services Organization.) This system determines the premiums that are paid by the insureds. The City of Stuart has the highest rating possible of 10. To obtain a rating is a complicated process. Departments and areas are graded on many different variables. The ultimate score can affect the ability to obtain homeowner’s and other casualty insurance and the higher the rating the lower the premium.
If Indiantown decided to either contract out the fire/rescue service, have their own department or a hybrid; their ISO score would probably drop due to a lack of redundancy that the Village enjoys with Martin County. This may cause premiums to rise. It could affect FPL, their largest taxpayer, and any other commercial or industrial business now located there or that may locate in the future.
Martin County has 12 stations throughout the county including the current one in Indiantown. That department has helicopter transport for serious emergencies, is responsible for beach lifeguards who are medically trained, hazardous-material response, fire safety inspections and emergency management. County-wide dispatch is under their purview. Some of those services are paid for from the general fund.
An analysis done by MCTA reveals that in 2020 Indiantown paid $5,350,000 for their share of the county wide fire MSTU. The total county budget for fire/rescue in that year was $47,700,00. The county wide MSTU that was levied was $33,207,000. $4,500,000 of the Fire/Rescue budget was from the county’s general fund which is paid by all taxpayers. The rest were from grants and fees such as ambulance re-imbursement.
Indiantown’s residents paid $231,665 of the total MSTU that was levied in the village. It is less than 5% of the MSTU paid within the Village borders. Roughly $4,700,000 was paid by one taxpayer which is FPL. That is almost 87% of the total.
Indiantown’s tax structure and tax collection are highly dependent on FPL whose warehouse is located there. While that is not a sustainable way to fund your government, it appears to us it is even less so for providing fire/rescue service which has such high fixed costs. FPL is highly dependent on a certain level of fire/rescue service to remain at their present site. FPL’s overall contribution to the entire county MSTU in 2020 was about 7%.
Several times a year, drills are conducted by the company and Martin County Fire/Rescue to maintain adequate alert levels. These drills are not only with Station 24, which is in Indiantown, but also with other parts of the department.
As presently constituted, Station 24 always has 7 employees on duty. Since it is so far from other stations, Martin County keeps more personnel there than at any other station to adequately staff it.
There were 866 fire responses within their zone and 161 outside of it last year. There were 1340 rescue responses. The average response time was about 9 minutes. The average time that a unit remained at the ER was 24 minutes after transport. We currently do not have the run times between Indiantown and the ER and then back to Indiantown.
When analyzing the level of service, you cannot just look at the one station. When Station 24 is on a call, there needs to be a back up whether it is for fire or rescue. That is a large part of the budget. There is needed redundancy in the system. According to numbers provided by Martin County, it cost about $3,600,000 per station per year to operate. When a station is busy, another one must be placed in reserve. The average cost per trip is $2,700.
So why is Indiantown so anxious to begin its own department? On many occasions, the council has expressed the desire to be completely independent from all county provided urban services. While this may be admirable, it certainly is not practical at this time.
As stated above, Indiantown’s biggest taxpayer may be unable to remain in the village because an independent department will not satisfy their special needs. Without FPL Indiantown cannot fund a fire operation or other governmental services. Before this step of independence is taken, FPL would need to sign off on the arrangement.
We have seen that Indiantown averages several calls per day. The current level of service that the residents and businesses have will not be possible with a $5.5 million budget. The village manager and council have said that taxes would be less if they had their own department.
MCTA doubts that the same level of service can be provided without at least two ambulances, a pumper, and one ladder unit being available 24 hours a day. Whether a new municipal department, a private company, or a hybrid of the two, the savings would be negligible after capital costs for the station and equipment. A municipal department would certainly be unionized which adds expense perhaps not contemplated by the village.
There has also been the assumption by the village that there would be a mutual aid agreement with the county. It appears that the manager and council are under the impression that the village would be automatically covered when their unit is on a call.
Such an interlocal agreement can be worked out, but it would cost thousands of dollars per call. It would not only be per call but as outlined above. The covering station would incur costs to the village just being available.
The village may have confused mutual aid with a catastrophic event. Several years ago, there was a chemical fire that the county responded to as did Stuart’s Fire/Rescue and even units from outside the county. It was an abnormal circumstance and not the cost of doing everyday business.
Even if the village somehow saved money with a new arrangement, the average resident and voter pays so little now, the amount they could save would be a few dollars for undoubtedly less service. No one has said that the current service is anything but excellent.
Martin County will relocate Station 24 to a more central place probably somewhere near what will be Newfield. This will be extremely expensive to the county taxpayers in the short run. Without the FPL part of the MSTU, which is primarily the personal property component, the county may take another look at the discount they give the company for their personal property tax.
The cost of dispatch, emergency management, fire prevention and other services will have to be worked out. Some have said that perhaps Martin County could sign an interlocal agreement with Indiantown at a lesser amount than the current MSTU, but it would be impossible to charge Indiantown less than other residents in the county for identical service.
In our opinion, this is a lose-lose proposition for Indiantown and all of Martin County. Once Indiantown embarks on this independent course, then there will be no return or consolidation in the immediate future.