ESD Commissioners address new spending needs, strategic plan

By SHELLY WILKISON

As emergency services commissioners anticipate proposed expenditures for the new fiscal year that begins this fall, they learned last week that total expenditures through May are at 69.6 percent of the amount budgeted for the current year.

“That’s really close,” said Dean Andrews, president of the Williamson County Emergency Services District #4, which serves the Liberty Hill area. “It should be at about 67 percent, but it means that we are on target (to finish the year within the budgeted expenditures).”

At their regular monthly meeting June 21, the Board of Commissioners approved the Treasurer’s Report submitted by Chief Mark McAdams and approved a budget amendment that made funds available to replace the department’s compuer server.

By a unanimous vote, $5,235 was made available to replace a server and purchase licensed software. Monies were moved from another line item in the existing budget to pay for the purchase.

Although commissioners were scheduled to discuss personnel expenses for the next fiscal year, the topic was delayed until the July meeting. Like other taxing jurisdictions, the ESD Board is waiting for tax rolls to be certified in the coming weeks by the Williamson County Appraisal District.

“The amount of money we have to spend could be flat,” said Commissioner Emory Martin. “We say flat, but it could actually be down a bit.”

“There are new homes being built, but they won’t be on the tax rolls until next year,” added Commissioner Dana Ripley. “Next year should be better for us.”

Andrews said if property values are up just slightly, “I would say it’s flat. But anything we get will be a plus.”  He said until the certified property values are received, it would be premature to set dates for budget hearings.

However, the Board did discuss the need for two major expenditures — an additional Engine apparatus and self-contained breathing apparatus for fire fighters.

Chief McAdams presented commissioners with a purchase plan for a new fire engine that included financing options over 10 years and 15 years.

The Board took no action on the item, but McAdams asked that commissioners consider the numbers as they prepare to develop a new budget.

Andrews said the total price of the engine was about $550,000.

“That’s a big number and we need to bit it off a little at a time. Yes, there is a real need and our job is to address the need and prioritize,”

Andrews said.

McAdams said air packs worn by fire fighters when responding to structure and vehicle fires need replacing. He estimated that 12 packs plus maks and air bottles would cost the district about $70,000.

He explained that current equipment is about 10 years old, and should be replaced for safety reasons. He proposed the district purchase packs and bottles that were compatible with those used by neighboring fire departments.

“I know these are big items, but my priority is the safety of the officers and the community,” McAdams said.

McAdams, who was named Fire Chief in April, presented the Board with a five-year Strategic Plan for the ESD that was developed with input from fire fighters.

In addition to a mission statement and goals for the department, the 13-page document includes a description of current staffing, apparatus and the territory served.

The document outlines factors impacting the future of the department. Among those are aging apparatus, the need for reserve apparatus, the need to increase staffing in order to better serve the community and move toward compliance with the National Fire Protection Association Standards, need for improved training and career development, and neighboring municipalities will annex parts of the district.

McAdams said he conducted a survey of employees in December 2011 to identify the department’s perceived strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. He included those results in the strategic plan. At the time of the survey, McAdams was serving as training captain under former Chief Bruce Watson.

Among the threats listed are annexations, limited communication with the City of Liberty Hill, rapid community growth, no community growth, public perception and attitudes among employees.

While the plan was not adopted by the Board, McAdams said he hoped it would serve as a “gauge on where we came from as we make improvements.”

McAdams informed the Board of the department’s activities for May — the majority of which were medical calls. The average response time was 6.25 minutes within the fire district. He noted the addition of two volunteer cadets. He said some fire fighters had been riding out with Austin Fire Department units for additional training.

The department also received a $7,000 grant from Fireman’s Fund that will be used on swift water training.

The Board agreed to change its monthly meeting day to the fourth Tuesday of each month. The next scheduled meeting is at 6:30 p.m. July 17.

Commissioner Sandra Taylor was not present Thursday.