City council rejects emergency services district, discusses new animal shelter
By BRITTANY FHOLER
The Copperas Cove City Council voted to reject a petition by the Kempner Volunteer Fire Department to form an Emergency Services District in Lampasas County during the council’s regular meeting held Tuesday evening.
The petition was brought forth by Chief Dan Hause of the KVFD at the council’s previous meeting on June 18, where council members questioned Hause about how the creation of an ESD would affect Copperas Cove. At that meeting, council approved delaying a vote until their next regular meeting in order to gather more information.
The ESD would have covered KVFD’s primary response area, which includes portions of Copperas Cove’s extraterritorial jurisdiction in Lampasas County. The petition included a proposed additional increase in property taxes not to exceed $0.10 per $100 of assessed valuation.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Hause explained that the purpose would be to increase his department’s response time, which averages at about 20 minutes due to members of the all-volunteer department having to come from their homes instead of straight from a station.
The petition included initially a proposed budget of $545,163.42 that was later updated to be $483,810.85, which would have funded two paid firefighters to be at the station Monday through Friday during normal business hours of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., plus operating supplies, repairs and maintenance, testing of equipment, ESD fees, utilities, communication costs, general liability, vehicle insurance, workman’s compensation, certifications and training, fuel and oil and capital outlay.
The KVFD’s current budget provided by Lampasas County is $68,407. The ESD’s proposed jurisdiction would cover 110 square miles, only two more miles than the Kempner VFD’s response jurisdiction of 108 miles, compared to Copperas Cove’s response area which is only 16 square miles, according to Hause.
Hause explained that the department has a good working relationship with Copperas Cove Fire Department, as they both assist each other on calls, like at the house fire earlier this year on Lois Lane.
Hause said he was concerned with the amount of people moving into the area and how the funding wasn’t keeping up with the population. He stated that the only thing he was requesting was consent to move forward with the process of creating an ESD, which required consent of Kempner and Copperas Cove before heading to the Commissioners’ Court of Lampasas County and then would have ended up in front of Lampasas County voters.
The Kempner Volunteer Fire Department currently has 37 members, 10 of which Hause said he could reliably count on at any given time, due to the fact that each one has their own individual lives. The equipment his department uses is also very outdated. They have a 1994 engine that is constantly costing the department money in repairs, he said.
If Copperas Cove responds to fires in its ETJ in Kempner’s area, there are little to no fire hydrants for them to use, leaving it up to KVFD to bring in water and manpower.
Hause also explained that if the Copperas Cove Fire Department does go out into the ETJ, that would cut back on their funding from the County considerably. This would result in Copperas Cove and Lampasas having to pick up more areas to respond to, Hause added.
The city council members’ concerns dealt with what would happen if Copperas Cove wished to annex something located in the ETJ and thus the ESD.
Hause explained that to remove a territory from the ESD to be annexed, all that would be required is a notice must be sent to the ESD requesting the removal of territory and the ESD would be required to remove the territory.
Another concern arose at the last meeting regarding any debt incurred. The city would take on debt based off of the appraisal value of the property it annexed.
Council member Kirby Lack expressed conflicting feelings over which way to vote.
“As a council I think we’re supposed to do what’s best for the city of Copperas Cove, not surrounding areas,” Lack said.
Lack added that he didn’t think he could handle if someone died as a result of a delayed response because council didn’t approve the petition.
However, he said, he didn’t think it was a “good deal” for the citizens of Copperas Cove and couldn’t see any benefit.
Fred Chavez agreed and said he agrees something should be done but didn’t think that this plan for an ESD was the right plan.
Chavez said that because there was the option where city council could refuse to provide fire and EMS services to annexed territory that was still under the ESD that would allow citizens to get “double tapped” by paying both the city’s taxes and the tax for the ESD.
“It’s one of those things that you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t, and I have to say that incurring more debt without getting the subsequent benefit to the citizens, that’s against the mandate that we’re supposed to be following,” Chavez said.
The city could also have requested that the ESD release any annexed area and take that area on itself, making the city the primary responder instead of the ESD. If there were any bonded debt for that area, it would become the city’s responsibilities, according to Haverlah.
Based on state law, it is virtually impossible for the city to annex involuntarily any areas where people currently live or have property if they don’t wish to be annexed.
“The whole annexation discussion is for basically vacant land that a developer wants to develop,” Haverlah said. The developer could voluntarily petition the city to annex that land. In the future, there would be a cost, though, he added.
By not consenting to the petition, the Copperas Cove city council opened the door to individuals who live in the city’s ETJ in Lampasas County to petition the city to provide Fire and EMS service at their area, according to Haverlah.
Chavez said he didn’t feel comfortable taking no action and wanted to provide a straight answer to Hause.
Council member Jay Manning made a motion to reject the petition, which was seconded by Marc Payne and approved 5-1 by the city council, with Lack voting no and Charlie Youngs absent.
The council also heard a presentation from Jonas Titas, executive director of the Copperas Cove Economic Development Corporation, regarding the EDC’s FY 2019-2020 proposed budget, which has a beginning fund balance of $6,328,803 and total revenues of $1,408,000, making the total funds available $7.736 million. Included in the EDC’s budget was $200,000 marked for a land swap and $500,000 for the DEEAG Grant Match. There is also an increase in the maintenance of the Narrows Technology and Business Park due to the land being cleared, and because during the last budget year, it was maintained by the Parks and Recreation Department. Of the EDC’s total budget, 40 percent goes to personnel, while 35 percent goes to obligations, 18 percent to operations and seven percent to programming. The presentation showed that the EDC will be reducing its staff from 5.5 to three funded positions next fiscal year.
The council directed Haverlah to find $500,000 to submit as a cash contribution to participate in the Defense Economic Adjustment Assistance Grant for the State Highway 9/Tank Destroyer Access Road Project on Fort Hood, which is supported not only by the region but by Fort Hood and the Texas Department of Transportation. Both the EDC and Coryell County have expressed support for the project, and the EDC has budgeted $500,000 as their portion of the construction cost.
The total cost is projected to be $5 million, with local cost share at $1.7 million.
Council members agreed to wait until their first meeting in August to take action on changing the Convention and Visitors Bureau from being a department under the city of Copperas Cove to be under the Chamber of Commerce.
This would allow city council to receive HOT Funds funding requests from the Chamber and the Tourism Department and provide direction on the allocation of funds, Haverlah said.
City council also provided direction on the Animal Shelter Project, unanimously agreeing to keep it on the 2020 CIP, selecting the construction delivery method to be Construction Manager At Risk and using a bond election as the source of funds.
Deputy Chief Brian Wyers presented council with an update of the project, which will include building a brand-new animal shelter on one of three proposed locations.
The needs assessment completed in December 2017 showed a total project cost of $7.4 million for an indoor-only facility if bid in January 2019 and $6.1 million for an indoor/outdoor facility.
Wyers said that by making cuts and removing storage spaces, reducing the number of kennels and reducing work areas, staff were able to bring the cost down to a minimum of $4.7 million.
“I can honestly say that with the resources I’ve used to get the numbers that I’ve got, that’s probably the lowest that I can get this project down to,” Wyers said.
Three locations that the city owns that were included in the presentation were Ogletree Gap near Fire Station No. 3, on the same lot as the proposed Fire Station No. 4 in the Narrows Business Park or by Fire Station No. 2 on F.M. 1113.
Wyers said that his concern with the F.M. 1113 location would be that people wouldn’t come out to that location because of how far it is from the main part of town.
“Anything’s better than sitting next to the Sewer Treatment Plant, though, so keep that in mind,” Wyers said.
Lack said he didn’t like any of the three proposed locations as a spot for the “dog pound.”
Wyers pointed out that shelters going up now look like pet stores and are meant to be something that would attract people.
When there was disagreement over the proposed location, Haverlah suggested allowing whichever architect is selected to evaluate the different sites and provide their professional opinion on which one would be best for the proposed project.