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Assistant fire chief pushes for cooperation

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Posted: Friday, April 12, 2013 9:11 am

A firefighter stood up for citizens who could be left with slower response times should the city and county not agree on reimbursement for fire services outside the Navasota city limits.

Local resident and Navasota Assistant Fire Chief Mitch Kroll said, “I believe the citizens of Grimes County need to have a voice in this matter. Fire protection for citizens outside the city limits is critical and should be a priority for all those involved.”

The assistant chief, who said he lives off SH 105 east, also added that any suspension of fire services would burden surrounding fire departments with hardships. Hardships Kroll described as “increased wear and tear on equipment, manpower issues, increased response times, and strain on an already tight budget, which they had very little input on accepting.”

While councilmen previously stated that if the county does not come up with proper reimbursement, fire protection services outside the city limits could be discontinued, Kroll told councilmen, “I hope this does not become a reality.”

Referring to the previous workshop meeting between municipalities, Kroll told the council that County Judge Betty Shiflett’s suggestion to create emergency services districts is not the immediate answer, as the issue could not even be placed on a ballot until 2014.

While Navasota continues to negotiate an interlocal agreement for fire protection services, Fire Chief Jason Katkoski and City Manager Brad Stafford are initiating individual meetings with commissioners, and future workshops between the county and city are anticipated.

The fire chief recently created a packet for county representatives and city council members to further explain the request for a $126,115 all-inclusive flat fee for fire services outside the city limits. The proposed figure is based on a five-year average of costs and related fire calls, and is approximately three times what the county currently pays the city.

Calls outside the city limits total an estimated 22.9 percent of their 700 annual fire calls, Katkoski said. Between October 2012 and March, the fire chief said fire calls outside the city have accounted for 24.8 percent of calls.

Though volunteer fire departments are compensated $20,000 annually, in addition to a $20 run cost for hourly use of equipment and $3.40 per mile, Stafford said, “Chief Katkoski has met with all of them as well, and they are supportive of what the city has requested.”

During a previous workshop between both entities, Precinct 2 Commissioner Randy Krueger previously suggested an $84,482 counter offer that was verbally turned down by the city, which said it refuses to continue “subsidizing” county fire calls. The council has yet to officially vote on the matter.

Councilman Bernie Gessner said, “This whole issue of payment has flown under the radar for years, with nobody pushing back on it. We didn’t push back on it, and the volunteer fire departments are poorly equipped to generate numbers to provide any pushback to the county commissioners. I think it’s agreed by most of the people that there has to be more money paid for this. Costs have gone up.”

Gessner added that he understands the commissioners’ quandary to not only fairly compensate Navasota’s hybrid fire department, but also balance that with current reimbursements for volunteer fire departments. The councilman suggested that since the city has enhanced administrative abilities, compared to the county, that Navasota provide several reimbursement options that include all the other county departments – except Iola, which has an ESD that already provides additional funding.

“I don’t think if we just leave it in their hands, that we’re going to get very far. And it’s just going to create more animosity, which we don’t want because, while we’re citizens of Navasota, we’re also citizens of Grimes County; it’s in our best interest to solve the problem,” Gessner said.

Precinct 4 Commissioner Pam Finke and Precinct 3 Commissioner Barbara Walker were both present at the council meeting Monday night.

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