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Palm Beach County Fire Rescue opposes plan to create new fire department in Jupiter

Estimated start date is 2026
Posted at 11:54 PM, Sep 19, 2023

JUPITER, Fla. — Palm Beach County Fire Rescue's administrator said his agency is against a plan for Jupiter to create its own fire and emergency service.

Jupiter's Town Council voted to create its own fire department in August because a consultant report estimated a savings of $68 million over a 10-year period along with additional budgetary and policy control over the town’s emergency services. The estimated start date for the proposed Jupiter Fire Department is 2026.

Palm Beach County Fire Rescue Administrator Chief Patrick Kennedy said in an email to WPTV that he believes the town's financial figures are incorrect.

"We are not in support of this change and do not believe the comparison presented before the Jupiter Town Council was truly representative of the challenges in creating another fire rescue department and certainly not an equal," Kennedy wrote. "We appreciate all of the support from the citizens."

He appeared before the council two weeks ago, telling them he disputed figures from consultants on $68 million in savings over 10 years.

People like Linda McDermott also don't believe the consultant's numbers are accurate. She based her opinion on her experience to help write budgets for other local governments.

"I know the Town Council wants the best thing for Jupiter," McDermott said Monday at a meeting of concerned citizens. "But I don't think they truly know how much this is going to cost."

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She attended Jupiter's Town Council meeting Tuesday, seeking for them to change their decision. McDermott helped organize the meeting at Stadium Grill on Monday night to pass out T-shirts in support of Palm Beach County Fire Rescue ahead of the meeting.

About 30 people attended on Monday, including multiple firefighters from Palm Beach County Fire Rescue.
 
Kennedy said it believes its experience and record make it uniquely suited to provide the best protection services.

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Organizers against the change and leadership within a local union for firefighters and paramedics in Palm Beach County believe a smaller department will lead to less experienced firefighters in Jupiter.
 
The town of Jupiter said people would receive a smaller tax bill when the Jupiter Fire Department begins operation in 2026. It believes a homestead property at $550,000 will pay about $533 for fire-rescue and emergency services. The previous year, in fiscal year 2025, that same property owner would have paid about $1,000 for Palm Beach County Fire Rescue's services, the town said.

Counselor Ron Delaney, who is the vice mayor of Jupiter, said the savings are hard to ignore.

"There's still tremendous cost savings," he said. "I just look at this personally as an elected official, and I'm a steward of the residents of Jupiter proper taxpayer dollar. I'd be a dereliction of duty not moving forward with our own independent town of Jupiter Fire Department."

Regardless of the savings, people like Chelsea Gass don't believe a new fire-rescue will keep her as safe as Palm Beach County Fire Rescue.

Chelsea Gass, whose husband is a firefighter with the county, says the caliber of personnel will be lower than those with the county agency. Sept. 19, 2023
Chelsea Gass, whose husband is a firefighter with the county, says the caliber of personnel will be lower than those with the county agency. Sept. 19, 2023

"When you get a small fire department, you're going to get rookies," Gass, whose husband is a firefighter with the county, said. "You're going to get firefighters who couldn't make it in the big town and you're going to get retired people. That's not who you want coming to my rescue."

Gass plans to create a physical petition, which she believes could cause a public vote on the issue if 10% of registered voters sign it.

A Jupiter representative said the town doesn't believe a petition could trigger a public vote because the decision wasn't an ordinance, along with other issues like it being more than 15 days since the Town Council made the decision.