WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Firefighters in West Palm Beach are speaking out against what they say is the misuse of funds after the city's fire fee was increased two years ago.
City commissioners voted in 2019 to double the city's fire assessment fee levied on homes from $50 to $100.
The West Palm Beach Association of Firefighters union said they supported the increase under the premise that the city administration committed to providing the following:
- Two new fire trucks to increase the level of service to our community
- Additional firefighters to staff these two trucks
- $3 million appropriated directly to these items
- Quarterly reporting and an increased level of transparency of where the money is allocated
In a statement issued last week, union President Jayson French said so far only one additional firetruck has been placed in service.
Also, the union said the truck is staffed by existing personnel on overtime hours, which impacts the fire department's budget.
French claims none of the other commitments provided by the city have been kept.
"The misuse of these funds is having a truly detrimental impact on the fire department," French said. "For the first time in history, our fire department is not a coveted place to work. Our staffing for emergency responses has fallen well below Palm Beach County standards. When the fire fee, which amounts to nearly $8 million, is not used for the fire department, it is merely another tax unknowingly created on the backs of our firefighters."
French said he pulled records and found that the money has been used in multiple ways.
"The majority of funds were being transferred out or they're being charged with internal service charges," French said. "We're unhappy, and I can assure any citizen who knows their fire fee isn't going toward what it was intended for is unhappy as well."
French said the union feels the city fire fee should either be used appropriately for fire department needs or be abolished and the money returned to the public.
"I think we ought to draw a line between what's legal and what was intended use and what the citizens believe they're getting for their money," French said.
The city and fire union will have a work session on Aug. 4 where the fire fee funds will be discussed.
Below is a statement released Monday by the city of West Palm Beach regarding the matter:
"Allegations of fire fee misuse are blatantly false. As a result of 37 new fire positions added in the current fiscal year, the West Palm Beach Fire Department now has a proper allocation of positions to fully respond to our city’s growing needs. Additionally, the manner that fire fee funds are being used is perfectly legal and in accordance with the ordinance. We look forward to future conversations about the use of fire fee funds at the Aug. 4 work session."