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Fort Lauderdale City Commission Approves Spending For Sewage Infrastructure, City Hall Upgrades, A New EMS Station And More

fort lauderdale city commission
Before City Hall became closed to the public due to the coronavirus, city commissioners met to discuss sewage infrastructure in January 2020.

City commissioners in Fort Lauderdale met for an online meeting Tuesday night, where they approved several spending projects.

During an online video-streamed meeting Tuesday night, Fort Lauderdale city commissioners voted in favor of spending more money on sewage infrastructure, money to renovate offices in City Hall, and money to purchase land for a new EMS station.

The city agreed to shell out more money to repair and replace its problematic sewers that have had numerous breaks and leaks, including a string of messy pipe breaks that started in December 2019 and continued into this year.

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City commissioners approved spending $4 million on sewage during Tuesday's meeting. That money will go to addressing a backlog of repairs, according to a staff memo.

Commissioners also voted to spend an additional $1.4 million on the ongoing project to build a new sewer main under much of the city.

In the realm of public safety, Fort Lauderdale will continue to use Broward County's regional 911 system, despite disagreeing with some changes in that system.

City leaders begrudgingly approved the first round of amendments to its agreement with the county.

"Although we're not necessarily in agreement ... at the end of the day we're presented with this [agreement] that, if we do not agree to it, then we essentially are giving up the ability to use the county's 911 system and would have to establish our own," City Manager Chris Lagerbloom said. "I think the risks in that are just too great."

The county and the Broward Sheriff's Office are working to alter its operator agreements with cities when it comes to a "base level" of services provided, and to change performance standards as part of a consultant report called the Fitch report.

Fort Lauderdale's Fire Chief, Rhoda Mae Kerr, said that the county's rollout of "Closest Unit Response" has been one of the challenges for the city. That initiative tracks the vehicle closest to an emergency, and sends it no matter what municipality the emergency may be in.

"We have gotten some small measures of improvement, but we're not always getting all the things that we want," she said. "We're just gonna continue to work through what we can to improve the dispatch, and really [the] most important thing is making sure that our folks are staying safe."

The county's regional 911 system has faced heavy criticism in recent years after failures during two mass shootings at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland. The county's emergency management has been in the middle of a process to construct new radio towers.

And while residents living in downtown and the south and southeastern parts of the city have complained for the past several years about slow 911 response rates, they are on track to get some relief.

City commissioners approved buying property at 507 SE 11 Ct., for more than $1.1 million, to build a future EMS station to serve the area.

A third budget item, that city commissioners approved 3-2 vote: Close to $100,000 to redesign office space for commissioners on the eighth floor of Fort Lauderdale City Hall.

The item caused some tense discussion among commissioners. Vice Mayor Steve Glassman argued it was a not pragmatic in the middle of the pandemic.

"I don't think this is the right time. These are difficult times ... I don't know why we have to do this right now," Glassman said.

City meetings and workshops have been held remotely, online since April. Commissioner Heather Moraitis echoed the mayor's points about needing a safe workspace as COVID-19 continues, saying she "needs to get back to City Hall."

"I need to get a space for all of my staff," she said, citing her two dogs barking while she works from home.

The final plans for the space are likely to change, as the City Manager consults with each commissioner on their individual needs and looking at possibly reconfiguring walls.

You can find agenda information, staff memos, and a full video of Tuesday night's City Commission meeting here.

Caitie Muñoz, formerly Switalski, produces WLRN's midday public affairs program, Sundial weekdays at 1 and 8 p.m. Prior to transitioning to production, Caitie covered news and stories concerning quality of life in Broward County and its municipalities for WLRN News for four years.