ESD readies temporary station
By MIKE EDDLEMAN
Williamson County Emergency Services District (ESD) No. 4 celebrated another milestone in April when it broke ground on fire station #2, but a lot of work remains before firefighters answer calls from the new location.
As a temporary solution to meeting the growing demand on the east side of the district, the ESD is setting up shop temporarily at 9500 State Highway 29 with a trailer and canopy to house a pair of firefighters with a small truck.
“We’ve got a spot to put it just above the junction (of US Hwy 183 and SH 29),” said ESD Chief Anthony Lincoln. “Its got the utilities and stuff we need to put it in there. That’s part of Santa Rita’s property, too.”
After struggling to find a suitable facility to rent, Lincoln said attention turned to buying a trailer.
“We were trying to find a place to rent and that didn’t actually work out, so we had to go to a plan B and will have to budget some more for this upcoming year’s budget to carry through,” he said. “Nobody really wanted us in subdivisions, and I understand that, so we went through a six-month exercise of trying to find a place to stay and we wound up going with this plan.”
The ESD set aside $18,000 in the current budget to rent a space. The 12-foot by 40-foot trailer purchased is $20,000 and has two bedrooms. Lincoln said it could be resold to recover some of the costs, but because it may be needed in the future, he said they may just hold on to it.
“We’re purchasing it, and we may not get rid of it when we’re through,” he said. “We may hang on to it and find a place to store it for station three, and if we’re not ready to build, maybe we can set up a temporary facility for that somewhere, too. It was $1,800 to $2,500 a month in rents on these places, so you’re either going to throw away $20,000 to $30,000 on rental property, or buy something and get a return on your investment. Even if we were to turn around and sell it we’d recoup two-thirds of our money in the worst-case scenario.”
Along with the trailer, a canopy was purchased for $4,500, for the truck and storage of bunker gear.
“We’ve got to keep it out of the sun to protect our equipment,” Lincoln said. “That bunker gear is $3,000 per person and you can’t put it in the house with you because of the contaminants you’d bring in. Any fire equipment doesn’t do good in the Texas sun.”
The temporary location puts the firefighters 4.7 miles closer to the coverage area according to Lincoln, who said it will take about a month to get it up and operational.
“That’s big when you start relating it to response times,” he said. “The staff is on for it, they’re just staying here until we get that set up.”
Currently, the ESD has eight firefighters on a shift including the two that will be housed at the temporary station. Six total firefighters have been added so far for station two.
“When we get ready to open the station we will look at hiring the balance,” Lincoln said. “We’re hoping for another six, but will be between three and six. It depends on the budget numbers we are looking at then.”
The ability for the new station to operate independently on calls will be determined by the final staffing.
“Out there, if there were just three, they would have to wait on another truck to get there before they could make an interior attack,” Lincoln said. “If we can go to four out there, they can do their own thing regardless of what this station is doing.”
The ESD applied for a grant through the Federal Emergency Management Agency that could help with the additional personnel costs in the first few years.
“We applied for six people for that, it’s like a $1.2 million grant,” he said. “It takes four months before they start awarding any of those. They look at your budget, your call volume, your district growth and then they analyze whether you’re worthy of getting it.”
It is a matching grant where the ESD pays 25 percent of the cost of the additional personnel for the first two years, then 65 percent the third year and 100 percent after that.
The ESD Board of Commissioners began preliminary talks at its April 23 meeting about the upcoming budget. With the new fire station in progress and the new truck being outfitted, no new big ticket projects were discussed for next year.
“The Board didn’t have anything specific,” Lincoln said. “But I already knew we’d have to be planning for all the impacts starting to catch up to us for next year with the opening of the new station.”
The increased costs will show up across the board with a second station, but will center on fuel, utilities, personnel and insurance.
“It is everything we always have in the budget, now it is impacted more,” Lincoln said. “It will take a pretty detailed look, but we’ve been looking at it for the past two years.”
The annual debt payment for the new station will add $340,000.
With property values increasing and sales tax revenues going up each month, Lincoln is confident that increases will be manageable.
“(Sales tax revenues are) above what we started off the year budgeting,” he said. “It has continued to go up for the past two years from what we’ve budgeted. Monthly, we’re probably averaging at least $10,000 per month over the projection.”
The ESD budget in 2017-2018 was just over $3 million.
“We will start meeting and going line by line to see what is going to be impacted,” Lincoln said.