Talks are under way as two fire districts in western Parker County consider seeking voter approval to join an emergency services district.
The two volunteer departments have joined the recent growing movement in Parker County to form or join an ESD, an entity tasked by state law with levying a tax and providing fire protection and other emergency services to residents.
Millsap VFD Assistant Chief Jeff Edwards said the department has discussed and is in the process of mapping out an area containing most of Millsap fire district and drawing up an annexation petition.
Edwards and Cool-Garner VFD Chief Rodney Robertson showed up Tuesday night to a meeting of the Emergency Services District No. 7 Board of Commissioners to talk annexation.
Fifty signatures are needed to present the issue to ESD No. 7, which, after a public hearing, could agree to call for an annexation election in November, according to Edwards.
They don’t plan to include the city of Millsap on the map, according to Edwards. The city already supports the fire department with taxes collected from residents.
The map also won’t include the Cool-Garner fire district, though there has been talk of that department seeking annexation in 2013, according to Edwards.
The Democrat left a voice mail but was unable to reach Robertson for comment on the issue by deadline Thursday.
“We’re just looking to stabilize funding for the future,” Edwards said. The Millsap department isn’t receiving the number of calls to necessitate paid on-duty firefighters or in dire need of new equipment but, like many volunteer departments in the county, are concerned about long-term financial issues, according to Edwards.
“We’ve been real lucky. We get lots of grants,” Edwards said.
Last year, the total operating budget for the department was around $100,000, according to Edwards.
About $40,000 of that is from county funding, Edwards said. The rest comes from grants and donations.
“This year has probably been the biggest struggle,” Edwards said.
A three-month delay in finalizing the current contract with the county and receiving the accompanying funding made things stressful for the department, according to Edwards. Though they had to prioritize and delay some purchases while waiting to find out if and when they would receive funding, the department was able to keep fuel in the trucks and continue responding to calls.
Available county funds have also been diminishing as their costs, including fuel and insurance have skyrocketed, according to Edwards. “It’s getting to be fewer and fewer departments relying on the county [for funding].”
“We know that taxing is controversial,” Edwards said. “We’re not trying to rapidly change what we are doing. We’re interested in stabilizing services.”
They are interested in finding the money to provide first responder service to the area.
Currently, with the majority of ambulance calls in the area responded to by LifeCare out of Weatherford, the response to a medical call is about 20 to 25 minutes, Edwards estimated.
They’d like to have the flexibility in the budget to send a couple firefighters to EMT school so they can begin filling that 20-minute gap by becoming a first responder organization, Edwards said.
“That’s one of our goals,” Edwards said, adding he thinks they could improve that response time a lot.
In addition to keeping up with the day-to-day costs of responding to 150 to 160 calls a year, the department has little way to prepare for future needs.
With the budget as tight as it is and funding as unreliable, they have no way to ensure they have the needed money for a larger equipment purchase, such as a new truck, when current equipment wears out over time. The only way they can currently afford a new truck is through grant funding, according to Edwards.
An engine purchased with grant money in 2007 cost about $240,000 and would cost closer to $300,000 now, Edwards said. It took three applications to FEMA to secure the grant for the current pumper truck and there is no guarantee they’ll get a grant when they need it in the future, he said.
As the area grows, it is important for the department to keep up with that growth, Edwards said.
ESD No. 7 president Johnie Herbert said Wednesday the board consensus Tuesday night was to support the process.
“We see that as a win-win,” Herbert said.
Edwards said they will be updating the department’s web site, www.millsapvfd.org, with information on the issue for residents and have already met with some in the community.
“We’re trying to be up front and open with it,” Edwards said.