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Provider of Fla. fire, rescue services may change: Surfside commissioners voted to switch to Miami Beach

MIAMI Claiming they were pushed into a corner by a pending county law, Surfside commissioners voted in favor of a resolution to withdraw the town's fire-rescue services from Miami-Dade County and switch over to Miami Beach.

The switch will not take effect immediately, and conceivably may not happen at all, though it does seem likely. It was presented at Tuesday's commission meeting as a preemptive step in the event the county commission passes a proposed ordinance that would prevent municipalities from opting out of the county's fire and rescue service district.

The Surfside commission has been weighing the town's fire-rescue options since February, when representatives from Miami-Dade Fire and Rescue proposed construction of a fire station and emergency service center next to town hall. But in March the commission heard from the Miami Beach Fire Department, which offered to handle the town's fire and rescue services for half as much as the $3.5 million charged by the county.

On Tuesday, commissioners approved the resolution 4-1, with Commissioner Mark Blumstein providing the lone dissenting vote. "I think we are uniformed and yet to have a hard number in writing from Miami Beach," he said.

But Commissioner Steven Levine said the county was trying to bully the town into a decision, and Vice Mayor Howard Weinberg agreed.

"It's unethical and selfish," Weinberg said. "How can the county tell us they know what's best for us? The choice should be ours."

In an interview Thursday, County Commissioner Sally Heyman said she agrees with Surfside commissioners.

"I don't like people telling me what to do personally or professionally," she said. "I would have liked the county to wait after we know more from the tax reform in Tallahassee, then negotiate from there."

Mayor Charles Burkett said going with Miami Beach was a no-brainer.

"The town will get the same level of service, for half the price," he said.

The Miami Beach proposal: to provide rescue services from a satellite station located at 7940 Collins Ave., and fire suppression services from the new station at 69th Street and Indian Creek Drive. The county currently provides fire-rescue services to Surfside from its Haulover Beach location.

Residents voiced concerns about the switch. "We have the right to leave if we want to leave, but let's make sure we get the same bang for the buck," said Richard Iacobacci.

Blumstein said he understands residents' concerns: "I want a guarantee a truck will be in close proximity from that 80th Street Station."

The resolution is not a final step, because the town's contract with the county runs through April and the resolution provides for a nonbinding straw ballot to gauge resident sentiments. However, it gives the town better legal standing in the event the county passes its ordinance later this month, Weinberg said.

"If the proposal [from Miami Beach] is inadequate, we will not sign a contract but the county tried a legal maneuver in an attempt to beat us to the count," he said.

Commissioners agreed to scheduled a public workshop after firmer numbers and details are obtained from Miami Beach.

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