Around the clock fire dispatch is the cornerstone of a new funding plan that Parker County fire fighting entities proposed to county commissioners last week, according to Deputy Chief Greg Stone, of Central Community Volunteer Fire Department.
Stone introduced the plan — which would require $85,000 more in county funding than last year — to commissioners during a special budget session.
He made the presentation as a member of a subcommittee for the Parker County Fire Chiefs Advisory Board, which has been working on a funding proposal since January.
“Our funding last year was cut to $750,000, from $800,000,” he said. “We’ve asked for our $50,000 back, plus $35,000 to cover dispatch.”
In 2010-2011, all fire dispatching was provided by the sheriff’s office dispatch, Stone noted in his presentation, but in 2011-2012, 66 percent of the fire dispatching was picked up by funds redirected from the individual fire departments.
Currently, dispatch services dedicated to fire calls are only available between 9 a.m. to midnight, Stone said, with the sheriff’s office fielding the night calls.
“That’s the absolute slowest time,” Stone said, “but the sheriff’s department has their own increased volume on the law enforcement side. We have several dispatchers with dispatch and fire service experience that speak the language; it would give us better lines of communication.”
If the increase is approved, Stone said, the new 24-hour dispatch would also take in Emergency Services District No. 1, including Springtown, LaJunta, Peaster and the Silver Creek departments, currently dispatched out of Springtown.
“Springtown has poor radio reception, and we’re hoping communications will improve,” Stone said. “We also handle a lot of calls for Springtown. This way the dispatch would be direct.”
The court took no action on the proposal; Judge Mark Riley said requests for additional funds would only be considered once budget revenues and expenses were fully understood.
“We don’t have the certified tax roll, and we don’t know the health insurance costs,” he said. Riley asked Stone to provide the court with a record of the amount of tax collections each emergency service district receives.
The majority of the $835,000 requested would cover subsidies to the different fire departments, Stone said, with $40,000 as a base subsidy for each department, $210,000 for the expanded dispatch and $25,000 — up from $9,000 last year — to rebuild an emergency response team, which would handle hazardous materials response and other tasks.
After that, the different entities would each receive a percentage of the remaining funding according to the population of their fire district, he said, with the population to be determined by the North Central Texas Council of Governments.
Stone told the court that all the county’s fire chiefs and ESDs had agreed to the formula, which he called fair and simple.
“The smallest departments receive enough to maintain basic infrastructure and the largest receive additional funding which reflects their respective populations and demands,” the presentation stated.
The new plan also addresses the content and schedule of county contracts.
It asks the court to direct county attorney John Forrest to help the departments resolve contract issues early on, so the final contracts will be ready for review by the court and departments before July 15 each year, rather than after the fiscal year has begun.
“Last year, the departments didn’t get their first checks until January,” Stone said. “We’d like the contracts to be reviewed in July, August and September, so the checks can be mailed in October.”
Stone noted that service calls have risen by an average of almost 105 percent county wide in the past 10 years as population has grown by almost 32 percent.
He said that fire departments face rising costs for vehicles, diesel fuel and tires.
“County funding hasn’t increased in years, but our equipment costs have,” Stone told the Democrat. “With Central Community Volunteer Fire Department, in this economy, our two fund raisers have had low attendance, and our donation rate is way down. We had to dip into reserves this year.”
Parker County Fire Marshal Shawn Scott agreed that the cost of operations for everything has gone up.
“We’re working with departments where the effect of that is felt exponentially,” he said, “especially those guys who live off donations.”
If the funding plan is not approved, Scott said, firefighters will have to go back to the drawing board.
“The biggest disagreements have been about who deserves what,” he said. “Is the funding based on population, square miles, run volume? Some of the smaller departments have a higher run volume. More money for diesel fuel is needed for those who have a larger area.”
“The trick is trying to balance the needs for each community within the budget provided.”