Who Isn’t for Public Safety?
If you have been following the Public Safety Commission looking into the February 14, 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, you know that Tamarac has been a topic of conversation. At the root is the 325-foot radio tower Broward County says is necessary to house behind Tamarac City Hall for the completion of its upgrades to the Public Safety Radio System, and the City Commission’s supposed “lack of cooperation” in getting this completed.
The Public Safety Commission seems to be under the impression that the elected officials in our City do not understand the need for the new system and that we lack a “sense of urgency.” Please understand that this is not a new topic for the Tamarac Commission. The City has been working with the County to find the best site for their radio needs and our residents for around two years now. Unfortunately, the current “best site” is located in the middle of a highly residential area.
As many of you know, City Hall and the proposed tower location are in District 3, which I represent. One of the first conversations I had with the City Manager after being elected in November of 2016 was about the proposed tower and potential sites for it. At that time, I was told the City and County were discussing different sites and that things were progressing.
Since that time there has been a shooting at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and one on Valentine’s Day that tragically ended the lives of 17 people. There is no question that the current radio system was overwhelmed during these events. It is outdated and needs to be replaced. The residents and the elected officials of Tamarac understand this. The Tamarac Commission has always supported and funded first responders and public safety is always a priority.
The proposal, as it stands, is to take down the 180-foot monopole tower the County currently rents at a dollar a year and replace it with the 325-foot tower. The County has told the City that the City’s equipment housed on the existing tower could be placed on the County’s tower. However, equipment for Sprint and T-Mobile on the current tower would not be allowed on the County’s tower even though the FCC is encouraging co-location to reduce the need for so many towers dotting the landscape.
Here is where I, as the representative for District 3, have to voice my concerns over what has been presented by the County to the Commission and at two community meetings last week. Additionally, I have questions that still haven’t been answered to my satisfaction by the County administration. Please note that this is my opinion and mine alone. I cannot and will not try to speak for anyone but myself.
- The original Request for Proposal (RFP) calls on the design of the tower system to use a network of 10 existing tower locations throughout the county and then add 6 new locations. These existing locations were mandatory locations to be used. The current location of the Tamarac tower behind City Hall was listed. However, there were other locations in other cities on the mandatory list that were not used in the final design. Why?
- The County has stated repeatedly that the tower in Tamarac must be 325-feet tall to allow for the signal strength to be at its maximum efficiency to deal with the thickness of newer construction and high-rises. As there are no high-rises in our area, why does the tower need to be that high?
- The County has also stated that the cost of the Tamarac tower is already in the budget and that it was paid for with County millage; no City dollars were used. Don’t Tamarac residents pay that County millage? Doesn’t that mean Tamarac residents are helping to pay for the tower?
- The County stated in both meetings this past week that Coral Springs, which is not currently on the County’s radio system, may end up joining the County’s Public Safety Radio System. The County is currently in talks with Coral Springs. Coral Springs has a 300-foot-plus tower in their city already. Would that tower be able to be used instead of a 325-foot tower in Tamarac, if Coral Springs decides to join the County’s system?
- While the County is required to build the tower to withstand a Category 5 hurricane, what happens if the tower fails and falls into the residential area? This question was asked by residents at each of the meetings in one form or another. I do not believe the County adequately addressed this question, but I will give it a try. Hurricanes and other natural disasters are covered by a homeowner’s insurance policy. The tower is not. Both the City and the County are covered by Florida law under sovereign immunity. That means if you took the County to court for their tower falling on your home you could only recoup $200,000, even if the court ruled in your favor for more than that, and only after what would likely be a lengthy and costly trial. Anything above that and you would have to file what is known as a Claims Bill through the Florida Legislature. This, too, can be a lengthy and costly process.
- Finally, several residents asked about their property values going down. In my opinion, this was not adequately addressed by the County, so I will try to do so. There are many retirees in Tamarac; after all that’s how we started out as a City. People who have worked hard all their lives to be able to buy a house and move to our community to enjoy their retirement. Many have put their life savings into their retirement home, as they know this is likely the last home they will own. On the other side, we have residents who are just starting their families and bought in Tamarac because they could afford a nice home. So, what does it matter if the tower is built smack in the middle of a residential area? There are residents who are afraid that when they go to sell their home, buyers won’t want to look at the 325-foot tower and they (or their heirs) won’t be able to get what their property is worth.
These are just a few of the questions still lingering in my mind about this 325-foot tower. Does this mean I am dead set against the tower? Does this mean I don’t understand the sense of urgency behind this project? Does this mean I don’t care about public safety? The answer to all the above is "no".
What it does mean is that I need better, more complete answers from the County. I need them to take the concerns of the Tamarac residents to heart and continue to work with the City to find a location that is not in the middle of our neighborhoods. It also means I need to hear from you, the residents. I represent you and as your representative I need to know how you feel about this issue.
The City Commission will be hearing from the County on this issue during our Workshop on Monday, August 20, 2018 at 9:30 am. The Commission is scheduled to vote on this item on Wednesday, August 22, 2018 at the 9 am Commission meeting. The County will make a presentation to the City Commission at the Workshop and answer our questions. The actual Commission meeting is where the public can speak about how they feel. Each member of the public will have 3 minutes to speak. I highly encourage you to attend these meetings and voice your concerns and opinions. This is democracy at work!