Cash-strapped Williamson County ESD #4 has spent 82% of annual budget, sells fire truck to Bertram

Fire Chief Bruce Watson informed the Emergency Services District Board of Commissioners Monday that the fire department has used 82% of its budget with two months remaining in the fiscal year.

Finances are becoming so tight that the ESD sold its 2002 Super Vac Rescue Truck to Burnet County’s ESD #4 (Bertram’s Volunteer Fire Department). After the meeting concluded, the Board signed over the title to the Bertram VFD, and are awaiting payment for the vehicle.

The sale will bring in $90,000 to the department, and the Board hopes the influx of cash will loosen the strain of the budget over the remaining 10 weeks.

“Basically from October to January we’re going to have to operate without any funds,” said ESD President Dean Andrews. “We’ll have to keep just enough to cover payroll and the bills, but at least this way we’ll seem like we’re attempting to be prudent. It’s not a huge, lush fund.”

A tense exchange came between Watson and Andrews during the Chief’s monthly report to the Board. Watson mentioned Board concerns about ESD payroll expenditures.

He said the department has needed to call in additional staff in order to assist in recent structure fires as well as leading a pre-emptive measure on July 4th with enough staff available to combat multiple fires and keep illegal fireworks displays to a minimum. The Chief also mentioned there were no illegal fireworks displays heard or seen by the department through the Independence Day holiday.

Staff will be compensated for the extra time, as well as for the structure fire that happened Monday evening which required extra assistance. Also contributing to the personnel hours were several recent training sessions for employees.

“We’re doing well compared to how we could be doing,” Watson said.

“We have to run this more like a business instead of a fraternity. Chief, use what you need, but let’s not play games,” Andrews said in response to Watson’s reasons for the budgetary issues.

Watson estimates that at least two budget amendments will be needed by September, in order to be able to appropriate payroll.

Watson also asked the Board for permission to use around $4,000 from the Credit Contractor Contingency line item. He asked that the money be used for chairs in the waiting area in the front of the station, and purchasing computer stations so employees could complete online courses for training purposes.

Andrews and the Board told Watson that before they would consider the expenditure, he should bring back estimates for the items.