The Jacksonville Beach City Council delayed a vote Monday night on whether to merge its fire department services with the City of Jacksonville.
Proponents of the measure say it will bring more promotional opportunities for fire and rescue staff, a safer work environment with adequate staffing, better safety equipment and training opportunities. But critics say they’re worried merging the departments will slow down response times.
The average response time is projected to increase by a minute and a half, from four minutes to five and a half minutes, according Jacksonville Beach Fire Marshall Steve Sciotto.
But Lieutenant John McDaniel, who’s been with Jacksonville Beach’s fire department for 19 years, said merging would solve the 30 person agency’s mandatory overtime issue.
“At your worst day, you’re calling 911. We need to be on our best day when that happens,” he said. “And you cannot do that when you’re working 72 hours on four out of five days.”
According to the draft agreement between the two cities, Jacksonville Beach would pay $2.2 million the first year, with the amount increasing 2.5% annually for all the services provided by Jacksonville in the 20 year contract.
McDaniel said the merger could save Jacksonville Beach taxpayers $15.7 million over 10 years.
Jacksonville would be responsible for all personal; including hiring, training, and recruitment. The Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department would extend employment offers to Jacksonville Beach’s firefighters.
“The question today is will this council continue their local control over one of the most important government functions or sign it away to a massive, faraway county government,” said Ryan McAvoy, Shift Commander at Jacksonville Beach Fire Department. “I personally believe better is not always bigger.”
Other Duval County cities have merged their fire departments with Jacksonville. Atlantic Beach and Neptune Beach entered a similar contractual agreement with Jacksonville in 1999. The town of Baldwin also relies on Jacksonville.
Related: Baldwin Gets New Fire Rescue Unit