Monday, May 12, 2008
7 News Investigations: Money to Burn
Times are so tough, cities are having to cut programs because there's just not enough money to go around. So imagine the surprise when it was learned one city spent big to decorate the outside of a fire station. Investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero has this special assignment report, "Money to Burn."
WSVN -- There's no doubt firefighters are real life heroes, and, when it was time for the city of Fort Lauderdale to build some new fire stations, voters agreed to spend $40 million to take care of the men and women who take care of them.
Firefighter: "Some of the facilities we live in are quite rundown."
This Fort Lauderdale firefighter asked we protect his identity, so someone else is speaking his words.
Firefighter: "If I were a taxpayer in the city of Fort Lauderdale, I would be angry."
And here's why:
This is Fire Station Number Two, being built in the Riverland neighborhood. On the outside, nearly $100,000 worth of decorative stone.
Carmel Cafiero: "What did you think about that kind of expense?"
Firefighter: "I was appalled. It's just ridiculous."
And that's not the only big ticket item here. These doors, which open sideways, instead of up and down, cost about $48,000 each. That's 10 times the cost of a normal door.
Carmel Cafiero: "So you guys sit around and say, 'Why are they doing this?'"
Firefighter: "That's pretty much the topic of daily conversation."
He says he and several colleagues think the city is spending like it has money to burn. This, at a time when firefighters are trying to get raises.
Carmel Cafiero: "And so $95,000 for decorative stone did not raise any eyebrows?"
Chief Robert Bacic: "It was part of the design process."
Battalion Chief Robert Bacic says there are solid reasons for the spending. The stone, he says, has dual purposes.
Chief Robert Bacic: "It's both functional and decorative, and the function does help eliminate leak problems."
The chief says it's something the community wanted.
Carmel Cafiero: "So, do you think the community understood that the look is going to cost $95,000?"
Chief Robert Bacic: "At this time, again, we've gone through an extensive process. There's been a lot of oversight."
As far as the pricey doors are concerned, the chief says they are being used very effectively at headquarters. He says they can stand up to hurricane force winds and open faster than traditional doors.
Chief Robert Bacic: "Being able to have doors that open in six to 10 seconds, rather than 30 seconds is always an advantage to emergency response."
And the chief says they have a longer life than traditional doors. They can open and close a million times, instead of just 50,000.
Carmel Cafiero: "So, bottom line is you feel this is money well spent?"
Chief Robert Bacic: "Absolutely."
Clearly not all of his firefighters agree.
Carmel Cafiero: "Could it have been better spent?"
Firefighter: "Absolutely. There's no question in my mind it could have been better spent."
And he's concerned that if the public doesn't approve of the spending, they'll put the blame on the front line.
Firefighter: "The sad thing about it is when these things occur, ultimately, it gets blamed back on the guys that are back on the street, the firefighters."
Meanwhile, Station Number Two and this one at Executive Airport, are due to open shortly with three others due out for bid before the end of the year.
Carmel Cafiero: "The final price tag on Station Number Two will be $4 million, that's $300,000 over budget, but, the city says, that's not so bad. Most construction projects run 30 percent over budget.
Fort Lauderdale says the money to build the new fire stations is dedicated bond money that can't be used for any other purpose.