Fort Lauderdale City Commissioners Approve Budget Changes, 'ShotSpotter' Contract
After beginning their regular meeting nearly an hour and a half late, Fort Lauderdale city commissioners had a long Tuesday night — that stretched past midnight — conferring on budget issues before going on a recess that will last until mid-August.
Just a few of the items the commission approved included: altering this year's budget to prioritize some infrastructure and park projects over others and — despite opposition from the public — the commission also approved a new gunshot detection service for the city police department, at a cost of $595,000.
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Commissioners voted 4 - 1 to approve changes to this year's city budget, Mayor Dean Trantalis was the only "no" vote. The city is expecting revenue shortfalls due to the coronavirus and as the fiscal year comes to a close in a few months, on September 30, the commission had to abandon a handful of projects to make room for funding others, like remediating Hector Park and Virginia Young Park in the Rio Vista neighborhood after the large sewage spills last December.
The project that was abandoned to make fixing the parks possible, was painting inside the George T. Lohmeyer wastewater treatment plant.
Fort Lauderdale resident Paul Chettle often speaks at commission meetings on infrastrcture and budget items. He called into the online meeting to argue that painting in the plant to protect surfaces from corrosion shouldn't be further ignored:
"This is a classic example of deferred maintenance. What this vote tonight will do is repeat the same old practices," Chettle said, referring to neglected sewage infrastructure that led to the leak issues and pipe breaks over time.
Public Works Director Raj Verma defended the decison to fix the Rio Vista parks over the painting project.
"This was not an easy decision for us," he said. "It was done with great research...We had to choose between the lesser of two evils."
Commissioners debated whether it was possible to use other bond funding for the park repairs, but ultimatley decided that wouldn't work and the painting project could be proposed again on the city budget for 2021.
After more public comment the commission also unanimously voted "yes" on a contract with a gunshot detection service called ShotSpotter. The technology uses sensors to locate where guns are fired and immediately alert law enforcement.
Fort Lauderdale Police Chief Rick Maglione described it as lifesaving and said it will get police to a scene more quickly.
"A lot of the cities that use it have said the officers have stepped out of the car and literally stepped on gun casings as opposed to someone calling it in from a block or two or three away and then we're just trying to drive around hoping we find something,” he said.
In the middle of prevalent social justice movements and active calls in Broward County to defund the police, people lined up in a video-conferencing queue to argue during public comment the money could be better spent for community programs. Like Rocco Diaz:
"We can find ways to prevent these incidents before they happen,” Diaz told the commission. “And the best way to do so is to invest money currently used by our police department into community services."
The city of Miami first began using ShotSpotter in 2014, according to the Miami Herald. Maglione mentioned he conferred with Miami Gardens about how the technology has worked for their police over the past several years.
Fort Lauderdale will use the program for four square miles, from Broward Boulevard north to 19th Street and from the city's western border east to about Andrews Avenue, Maglione said. The first year of the program will be funded by a trust fund from the U.S. Department of Justice.
You can find a full video of Tuesday night's commission meeting, here.