Emergency Services District 3 will be considering action on its service agreement with the city of Weatherford at its meeting Thursday morning.
ESD 3 and Weatherford are four years into their 10-year contract where the Weatherford Fire Department provides all services to ESD 3, which covers about 75 miles in Hudson Oaks, parts of Weatherford, Annetta, Annetta North and unincorporated Parker County.
“I have no idea what the board is going to do. I kind of know the history of what the cost has been and the last few years there’s been a steady escalation in the cost for ESD 3 — it went $779,000, $859,000 and now they want over $1 million, so it’s obviously a problem,” ESD 3 Board President Ed Huddleston said. “There are just some problems with the contract and we’ve spent maybe a year trying to work through them. There’s a substantial difference between what ESD 3 is being charged and what it actually costs. We just have some fundamental disagreements and at the end of the day we’re either going to keep going or stop.”
ESD 3 has a 10 cent tax rate, which is the maximum rate, that residents pay for services and the money is split — 4.8 cents going to Weatherford and 5.2 cents going to ESD 3.
Weatherford Fire Chief Paul Rust went over the options that ESD 3 can take action on, which includes staying with the current agreement, going with a new agreement with a new payment calculation method or terminating the agreement and creating their own fire department.
“WFD’s fiscal year 2019 budget is projected to be $6,546,366.09, and the ESD 3 payment this year was $774,187.33. WFD’s proposed fiscal year 2020 budget is $6,989,094, and the ESD 3 payment under the current agreement would be $859,841,” Rust said. “The ESD 3 commissioners have asked the city of Weatherford to consider a different method in calculating the annual payment. This new method would result in a new contract. The payment would be based upon a share of the Weatherford Fire Department’s operational budget. In this request, the responsibility for purchasing the fire engine located in the ESD 3 station could possibly shift to the city. If this is the case, the payment from the ESD to the city would increase accordingly to cover the expenses associated with the city of Weatherford to purchase and maintain the new fire engine. The estimated payment for a fire engine is around $125,000 [annually].”
Rust said as a result of property values increasing, the amount paid to WFD has increased, but also the revenue to ESD 3 has increased, and Rust came up with the new payment method to help limit rise in cost each year.
“The city has not had any issue with the current contract and in the current contract we get a portion of their property tax. We do provide all of the service, so we’re not just responding to a portion of their incidents out there, we are the ones that take the initial response,” Rust said. “They do have a small group of volunteers that we can call in to kind of assist us when needed, but we are providing all of the work and taking less than half of the money. We weren’t interested in renegotiating, we thought they were pretty fair terms.”
Rust said if ESD 3 decides to terminate the contract, they will begin the process of implementing contingency plans.
“If the ESD 3 commissioners decide to terminate the agreement, the Weatherford Fire Department will begin the process of implementing contingency plans to ensure our citizens around the lake continue to get services from the Weatherford Fire Department,” Rust said. “Also, the ESD will need to either contract with a new service provider or begin the process of creating their own fire department.”
ESD 3 and the city of Hudson Oaks recently finalized a land swap deal so that ESD 3 can build a fire station in the future. ESD 3 currently uses the Hudson Oaks Police Department building to operate out of.
“This is not a thing to be angry or irritated about, I respect their judgement,” Huddleston said. “They have to do what’s best for their taxpayers and ESD 3 has to do what’s best for its taxpayers and hopefully both sides will do that.”
The ESD 3 meeting takes place at 8 a.m. Thursday at the Hudson Oaks Police Department and for more information about the meeting, visit esd3.org.