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County signs off on five VFD contracts

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    Examiner photo by Connie Clements Pct. 2 Commissioner David Dobyanski (right) presents Road and Bridge employee Charles Samples with a five-year service award. Samples is part of the north end crew.
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The Grimes County Commissioners Court met in a Regular Meeting Wednesday, Oct. 23, and with a 4-1 vote approved the firefighting services contract with the Bedias, Richards, Shiro, Todd Mission and Whitehall volunteer fire departments (VFD) as written and authorized the county judge as signatory. Pct. 1 Commissioner Chad Mallett cast the dissenting vote.

Fire chiefs present were Cort Norwood, Richards; Dan Sharron, Shiro, Cassandra Malone, Todd Mission and Freeman Vickers, Whitehall. The contracts now go to the VFDs for final approval.

Contract concerns

Today’s vote follows the Aug. 14 decision to terminate the contract with the Grimes County Fire Fighters Association (GCFFA) in favor of contracting individually with the county’s eight volunteer fire departments. Proposed at that time was ending Incident Reimbursement, aka “run money,” and paying a stipend for Extrication Certification.

At that meeting, and the Aug. 19 Special Meeting, Judge Joe Fauth said documentation indicated some of the VFDs were not in compliance with reporting mileage, hours of operation, training, IRS filings as well as federal requirements for tax-exempt organizations – all of which were to be overseen by the GCFFA.

For the 2020 budget year, GCFFA requested an increase from $32,500 to $40,000. Under the existing contract, each VFD received $32,500 from the county as well as $22 per apparatus per hour for fire protection/firefighting equipment-time expended on each call and a reimbursement of $3.74 per miles per apparatus for travel to and from a call.

VFD county funds are “use” specific, maintained separately from fundraising revenue and audited by the county.

Emergency Management Services Coordinator David Lilly advised that since August, Bedias, Richards, Shiro, Todd Mission and Whitehall have negotiated individual contracts and Iola and Anderson have approached the county. There was no update on the Plantersville-Stoneham VFD.

Payment based on

standards met

Lilly explained that the contracts had gone through a number of revisions as a result of the individual fire chiefs “making very good recommendations on how to make the contract make more sense.”

He continued, “I have also engaged with each fire department individually and gone over their certifications, their training, to pick out what they are required to submit as part of the contract and I can say, based on how this contract is written, all of the departments are currently at Tier 4 with the exception of Bedias that has one item holding them up. They have a qualified Incident Safety Officer and not a certified. I’ve talked to Chief Tamplin and he’s working on getting their Safety Officer through the certification before the end of this calendar year. I would indicate on that contract that they are ‘in progress.’”

This places Bedias, in Tier 1 with Tier 2 in progress. For Tier Level rates and minimum department standards, see chart on page

xxx.

Fauth explained that making payments quarterly instead of the beginning of the year allows a VFD who has met the standards of the next tier to be adjusted to receive the higher level of pay in the next quarter.

Give and take

A lengthy discussion covered grouping different fire departments within the same tier, run money, equipment and price breaks, tax changes and responsibility to taxpayers.

Regarding grouping different VFDs within the same tier, Mallett said, “As far as this amount of funding goes, I don’t think any two fire departments are the same - the number of calls, the size of their district, they all vary in length. I don’t want to hinder our fire departments.”

Mallett favored tailoring the contract to the needs of each VFD as is done with other county department contracts.

Chief Sharron estimated the loss of run money would decrease overall funding by 30%. Chief Vickers suggested consideration of a flat rate of $210 per run.

Fauth said Kolkhorst Petroleum has agreed to let the VFDs “piggyback” off the county contract for diesel at $2.09 per gallon, a savings of about $0.50 per gallon for the VFDs. The VFDs will also receive Kolkhorst’s “best price” for fuel storage tanks, an expense Fauth said the court might want to absorb.

Fauth reminded all the court budgeted $20,000 for the 700-800 MHZ radios for the VFDs, spent $92,000 to upgrade the 9-1-1 console system at dispatch, and of next year’s 3.5% tax cap.

He said, “We need to be better managers of those tax dollars in front of us, and it’s not just the five of us who have that responsibility but those who participate in some kind of funding.”

Other court action:

•Approved consent agenda items that included Treasurer’s list of claims and bills and payroll.

•Road and Bridge employee Charles Samples received a service award for five years of employment.

•Received a Quarterly Interpretative Report from Allen Homann, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Agent about activities in the last quarter and upcoming events.

•Approved a revision to the Flood Damage Prevention Order requiring slabs built in the 100-year flood plain to be set 1 foot above the flood plain.

•Received a Road and Bridge update from Engineer Harry Walker on road maintenance, tree removal, bridge repair, 2019 projects completed and ditch/drainage work. Walker is reviewing subdivision rules and regulations, working with the Harris County Flood Control District and Montgomery County on a drainage mitigation study of Spring Creek and Lake Creek and he advised that “winter hours” of 7 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. will go into effect Nov. 4 for Road and Bridge crews.

•Tabled action on an exchange of real property in the D. Gregg Survey for an interest in real property owned by Jim Westmoreland in the same survey, pending negotiation and contract drafting by County Attorney Jon C. Fultz.

•Commissioner Barbara Walker updated the court about her meeting with CHI St. Joseph Ambulance Service about future needs and growth in the county.

Burn ban status

The burn ban remains lifted.