WCESD #4 to purchase squad truck

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN

Liberty Hill firefighters are getting a new ride late this year.

Williamson County Emergency Services District #4 voted Monday to purchase a new squad/brush truck to help modernize and better suit the district’s vehicle needs.

Chief Anthony Lincoln has been looking for the right truck since last year, even considering a used one from the City of Georgetown, but nothing he found truly fit the need until now.

The new truck, which will hold 500 gallons of water, versus the more common 300-350 gallons found on most brush trucks, will provide a number of new benefits including a diesel pump that draws from the man fuel tank, and the ability to pump from a local water source.

“That’s always been an issue in the past,” Lincoln said of the water capacity. “You run out of water really quick on these grass fires. We’ve been trying to figure out how we can get an increase in the amount of water, and yet maintain the ability to carry equipment, which is important on a truck like this.”

The truck is ideal for medical and other incident calls as well as grass fires.

“This is a hybrid squad with a brush truck capability,” Lincoln said. “This will have all the stuff we have on our current squad, just with additional water.”

The new truck will be $196,000 and is expected to be on a 180-day delivery timetable. Now that the Board has approved the purchase of the truck, financing options will be brought back for consideration at a future meeting.

Admin services dilemma
The ESD learned in early July that the City of Liberty Hill would not be renewing an administrative services contract that meant the ESD would have to look elsewhere for payroll and other accounting services.

Lincoln voiced his frustration with how the decision was made and announced at both the July 8 City Council meeting as well as Monday’s ESD meeting.

“We found out about this by accident, when (Fire Marshal) Keeling (Neves) was reading the agenda for the July (City Council) meeting,” he said. “They did indeed terminate our administrative contract we have had for four years.”

The contract has been for $26,000 annually, and the only question remaining is whether the services will be provided through the end of August or September.

“We met with them in February to try and determine what that contract was going to look like this year, whether we were going to try and do some of this ourselves, and they never did respond back to us,” Lincoln said. “Here we are July 8 and they blindsided us.”

Seeking middle ground
Despite months of debate and tension, local business owners and the ESD are meeting to seek solutions to conflicts over the fire code.

“Chief Lincoln paid us a visit, then prior to that Mr. (James) Baker, and they had some different thoughts and ideas about our property and our venue and we appreciate the willingness to come out and start thinking about it,” said Monty Oehrlein, owner of Shooting Star Ranch. “We look forward to meeting again and hopefully getting our issues behind us.”

Last March, the Fire Code Appeals Board ruled against the Oehrleins’ appeal of the findings of Neves regarding required changes and upgrades to their venue to meet the fire code.

Since that time, the Oehrleins and other area business owners have been pushing for more flexibility in the interpretation of the fire code locally.

The Oehrleins said the recent efforts by the ESD have helped them as well as other business owners.

“That’s not just for the issues that we’ve had, but for the other people in the community as well,” said Shawn Oehrlein. “It has made a big difference. I know I’ve heard from the other people how the visits and handling every situation uniquely has greatly affected everyone in the district.”

Lincoln said it was important to look at each project separately to focus on working with business owners to resolve the issues.

“We’re looking at every project one by one – the pros and cons and risk analysis – and trying to find a happy medium to where we can make this work without giving up the farm and still get what we need out of it and that’s keep people alive,” he said.

Budget presentation
The first presentation of the ESD budget for fiscal year 2020 will be Aug. 5.

The ESD is up to 33 employees this year with the addition of a number of new firefighters through a SAFER grant received last year. 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.

The budget will also see an increase in the coming year with the opening of fire Station 2 – which Lincoln hopes will take place within the next few weeks – as well as payments on the fire truck purchased early last year.

The current tax rate for the ESD is $0.98250 per $100 valuation and the current year budget is $3,889,536.

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