ESD lands SAFER grant
By MIKE EDDLEMAN
Just as Williamson County Emergency Services District (ESD) #4 was finalizing its new budget, it got a welcome boost in the form of a $659,020 federal grant to help cover the cost of six new firefighters.
The ESD got the word on Aug. 31 that it would receive a grant from the Department of Homeland Security through the Staffing and Adequate Fire and Response (SAFER) program.
The funds will cover a portion of the salary and benefits for six additional firefighters over a three-year period, with the amount of the grant decreasing in the third year.
“It really is a boost to us,” said ESD Chief Anthony Lincoln. “It allows us to do things quicker than we would have had the opportunity to do before.”
With the temporary second fire station now open and the new station set to open in April 2019, the help with new staffing is welcome.
“It came at the best time it could come for us, as we’re opening the new station,” Lincoln said. “That was pretty neat.”
The total annual cost for the six new firefighters, including benefits, is $356,226. The grant will pay $267,170 of that in year one and two, leaving the ESD to cover $89,056 in those years. In the third year, the grant pays only $124,680 and the ESD covers $231,546.
“This grant has been out there over the years as a five-year grant, then it went to a two-year grant completely free,” Lincoln said. “I like this better. At least here you’ve got some commitment and buy-in and that grows until year four when they are yours.”
The additional hires will allow the ESD to up its daily staffing from eight currently, to 11 total at both stations.
Currently there is a three-person engine company, a two-person squad, and a battalion chief at station one, and a two-person squad at the temporary station.
“That’s really because we only have a facility out there big enough to handle two people,” Lincoln said. “When we open the station we will go to an engine out there with four people on it.”
The new staffing, once the second station is open, will have a four-person engine at each station, and two-person squad and battalion chief at Station 1.
He said the ESD will continue to run the smaller squad due to issues getting in and out of a lot of places throughout the district, but the ideal situation is to be able to send out the four-person engines.
Based on firefighting standards and safety for personnel, the four-person crew is ideal.
“Four person staffing is a good optimum number to get a crew out,” Lincoln said. “There’s a deal through the Texas Commission on Fire Protection called two-in, two-out, where for every two people I have in a house, I have to have two more outside ready to go in and save them in the event something goes wrong. If you see a crew of three out here, they can’t make entry into the house unless it is a known rescue. This gives us immediate access to the structure, which is a pretty important factor.”
Once the new firefighters are hired, the ESD will incur an additional $6,000 per person cost for uniforms, personal equipment and physicals.
There have been 34 SAFER grants awarded in Texas this year through Sept. 14 and $332 million has been awarded nationwide. Other area departments receiving grants include Georgetown ($1.7 million), Leander ($1.4 million), Jonestown ($643,623), Marble Falls ($341,614), and Kyle ($656,299).
The ESD made its budget and tax rate for the upcoming fiscal year official Sept. 10, with a total budget of $3,889,536 and the same tax rate as the current year at 0.98250 per $100 valuation.
“We were able to do the project we wanted to do,” Lincoln said of the new budget. “We’re working to try and keep up with the growth and it will make a big impact when we open that station.”
Expansion meant a bigger budget, with construction already started on Fire Station No. 2 in Santa Rita, and the addition of more firefighters to staff the growth on the fire district’s east side.
The new budget is an increase of $802,961 over the current fiscal year. Debt service on the new station is $340,000 and more than $350,000 was in additional personnel.
Total debt service for the upcoming year increased by $396,770 annually to $624,018 next year with the additional payments for the new station and the new engine recently delivered.
The debt on Fire Station No. 1 will be paid off after two years, which will then lower the debt service amount as it and other vehicles come off the books.
Personnel expenses are up $642,512 to $2,211,331 of the total budget.
The addition of a full-time fire marshal accounted for some increase as well, bumping the budget by $102,048 for personnel as well as a slight increase in community awareness funding for programs.
With growth, line items such as apparatus maintenance, fuel, utilities, insurance, training and equipment all saw an increase as well.
The majority of revenues for the ESD come in the form of property taxes, projected at $3,107,778. It is an increase over last year’s property tax revenues of $775,309.
Sales tax revenues continue to climb, projected for budgeting at $570,000 next year. The current year’s adopted sales tax revenue projection was $400,629 but has already surpassed that total through August. The ESD will fund about $117,000 of the new budget with reserves.