Copperas Cove holds budget workshop - proposed increased utility rates
By BRITTANY FHOLER
The Copperas Cove City Council met Tuesday evening at the Technology Center and virtually via Zoom for a workshop to discuss the city’s proposed budget for fiscal year budget 2020-2021, of $45.27 million.
The budget is divided into several funds to include the General Fund, the Water and Sewer Fund, the Solid Waste Fund, the Drainage Utility Fund, the Golf Course Fund and the Other Fund.
The Water & Sewer Fund has a total proposed budget of $14,163,056. There is a four percent increase in proposed revenues, due to a proposed five percent increase to the water and sewer rates. The revenues come from the sale of water and sewer, admin reimbursement, connection/disconnections, miscellaneous, late charges, water taps, interest revenue and sewer taps. The fund’s largest source of revenue is from the sale of water and sewer to utility customers.
The five percent rate increase would see the current residential and sprinkler base water rates of $4.75 per 1,000 gallons increase to $4.99, while the commercial rate will increase from $5.82 to $6.11. The sewer base rate will increase from $5.75 to $6.04 for all customers.
The city now has to pay more for its water, with an increase of six percent compared to the previous budget. The city purchases its water from Bell County Water Control and Improvement District #1 (BCWCID #1).
The proposed budget for the Solid Waste Department is $5,342,636. This includes a proposed five percent rate increase. For a residential 96-gallon bin, the rate would increase from $19.00 to $19.95. For a commercial 96-gallon bin, the rate would increase from $39.58 to $41.56.
The budget also includes the addition of a new Supervisor position and two laborer positions at the Disposal/Transfer Station, as well as the expansion design of the Transfer Station.
The General Fund’s proposed budget is $18,881,602 to cover operations such as city administration as well as police, fire/ems, Parks and Recreation, the Public Library and more.
The General Fund’s revenue comes from taxes- ad valorem, sales tax, franchise taxes and other taxes. The property tax revenue is estimated to increase by two percent, at a tax rate of $0.7865 per $100 valuation.
The General Fund proposed expenditures increased by 4 percent, due to market adjustments for Public Works, Parks and Recreation and Library positions; one percent COLA for eligible employees; the police step-line pay program; addition of Human Resources custodian and 2.5 positions to Parks and Rec. Maintenance department, among other things.
Fire Chief requests 4th ambulance
Fire Chief Michael Neujahr spoke to the city council about requests made for a fourth ambulance, which had been designated as a priority during discussions back in February. Not included were the personnel to staff the ambulance or funding for additional staff at Station 3, due to budget constraints, according to City Manager Ryan Haverlah.
The proposed budget for Fire/EMS operations is $4,403,695, an increase from the $4,279,966 of the FY 2020 budget.
Neujahr distributed a document about the CCFD and the state of the department.
CCFD’s ability to “sustain an acceptable level of service to the community is at risk, not due to lack of morale, leadership training, or fiscal responsibility, but due to insufficient response capacity,” Neujahr said. CCFD lacks adequate staffing for its existing fire apparatus as well as the personnel to operate a fourth ambulance.
Currently, CCFD has three stations- the Central Fire Station, located on Main Street; Fire Station No. 2 located on F.M. 1113 and Grimes Crossing; and Fire Station No. 3, located on W. Bus. 190, near Ogletree Gap Park.
Fire Station No. 3 is “for all intents and purposes without a fire engine”, according to Neujahr.
In the last 12 months, there were 402 times that other fire and EMS units from the city had to respond in Station 3’s district for emergency service calls. In the past four months, the fire department has run out of ambulances 105 times, leaving the city without critical intensive care transport capabilities.
Staffing and operating a fourth ambulance would require $498,525 in personnel salaries and approximately $6,000 in fuel expenses annually. The approximate revenue for these added services is estimated to only be about $48,000, Neujahr said.
There have been approximately 80 times where mutual aid from other EMS services were requested to respond to Copperas Cove citizens requiring emergency services. These responses typically take 15-plus minutes.
“That’s a long time if somebody’s doing CPR on you,” Neujahr said.
At Station No. 2, the fire engine is not staffed, leaving the city with only two fire engines to fight a structure fire.
“Typically, our fire engines are only staffed with two people,” Neujahr said. “There is a state mandate, a state law, that says for every two people that go inside a structure fire, two people must be outside ready to go to effect a rescue should something go sideways. Citizens in the district of this station, Station Three, are at risk of not having the closest fire engine respond to their emergency.”
Neujahr pointed to a major accident on West Highway 190 and F.M. 2657, where the fire engine at Station 3 was only able to respond because there were no firefighters at the scene.
Staffing needed for this fire engine would require $520,382 in personnel salaries and approximately $6,000 in fuel and oil.
“That amount is significantly higher than staffing a fourth ambulance because an ambulance only requires four firefighters,” Neujahr said. “Staffing Fire Engine No. 3 would require three officers and three firefighters, so the officers’ salaries are higher than the firefighters, of course.”
The CCFD’s average response time city wide is about five minutes and eight seconds. The national average response time is eight minutes.
Council member Jay Manning asked about the possibility of moving the fire engine and ambulance from Station No. 3, effectively closing the station- and whether there would be space to move the apparatus.
“I think that would be a bad idea, to be blunt,” Neujahr said. “We leave the ambulance there, at least those citizens in that district, in that area of town are receiving the benefits from having the closest response to them even though there’s no fire truck there.”
Mayor Bradi Diaz asked whether both items mentioned- the ambulance and the personnel for Station No. 3- were a priority.
“Those are the response capabilities that we are lacking,” Neujahr said. “The priority for me now is the additional ambulance because the emergency medical service needs right now outweigh the fire. Those would be two separate items.”
In 2019, CCFD responded to 372 cardiac emergencies, 285 chest pains, 165 respiratory distress, 43 cardiac arrests, 659 in traumatic injuries, 141 seizures, 132 diabetic emergencies and 38 strokes, according to Neujahr.
City Manager Ryan Haverlah explained that this was just an informational discussion to share the potential impacts of not funding the items in the future.
The approved requests for Fire/EMS included three rescue equipment baskets, Battalion Chief dorm furniture, a computer workstation and chairs, a low frequency siren and a microwave/oven for Station No. 1.
The city council met again for a workshop on Thursday evening and has another scheduled workshop meeting for June 16. The city council will be holding another workshop on July 2, featuring outside entities and hotel occupancy tax fund requests, as well as another workshop scheduled for July 7 to discuss fee schedule changes and review recommended changes.
On July 21, the council will meet in a workshop to discuss the tax rate. On July 23, the city council will hold a public hearing on the proposed budget and set a public hearing for the tax rate, which will be held on August 4. During this August 4 meeting, the city council will adopt the proposed budget, adopt the tax rate, adopt long-range plans and adopt the fee schedule.
Proposed utility rate increases for 2020-2021
Residential water base $4.75 to $4.99
Commercial base $5.82 to $6.11
Sewer base $5.75 to $6.04.
Solid waste residential $19.00 to $19.95
Solid waste commercial $39.58 to $41.56