Emergency Services District 3 met Thursday morning and is giving the Weatherford Fire Department seven days to accept a proposal on their joint agreement before considering termination.
Currently, ESD 3 pays the Weatherford Fire Department 4.8 cents of its total 10-cent tax rate, but with the increase in property values, ESD 3 was not happy with the escalation in the payments. ESD 3 and WFD are four years into their 10-year agreement where WFD provides all services to ESD 3, which covers about 75 miles in Hudson Oaks, parts of Weatherford, Annetta, Annetta North and unincorporated Parker County.
ESD 3 proposed that they pay 13 percent of the WFD’s operational budget and make payments quarterly instead of having the payment based on appraised value of property.
“Rather than immediately go our own way, we’ve made one last offer to the city with termination in seven days if it’s not accepted. I’ve really enjoyed the firefighters in Weatherford, but you’ve got a responsibility to your taxpayers and it’s just one of those things,” ESD 3 Board President Ed Huddleston said. “[The proposal] was 13 percent of the operating budget of the Weatherford Fire Department, paid quarterly, and ESD 3 buys the new fire engine and ESD 3 builds its own fire station just like we were always going to do. We’ve negotiated for over a year and we never actually came to a set of issues that completely disagreed on, so we’ve gotten it down to the one issue of how much Weatherford wants, and we’ve offered them more money in total than we’ve ever paid and offered them a greater percentage of the budget than we’ve ever paid. There’s a provision in the contract that requires them to put four firefighters on every call made out of ESD 3 and we’ve agreed to release one of those.”
But Huddleston isn’t sure Weatherford will accept the offer.
Weatherford Fire Chief Paul Rust said the same offer was presented to them in July.
“The ESD 3 commissioners made this same offer in July, and it was presented to the Weatherford City Council. The ultimatum of accepting in seven days or ESD 3 will terminate is a new twists,” Rust said. “My only concern in this matter is for the people we are responsible for serving and the firefighters we employ. The current contract has six years remaining, but it does have a clause for a 180-day termination. If the ESD 3 commissioners believe that there is a better way to serve and protect their residents without WFD, then that is their call.”
Additionally, Rust said depending on what insurance company residents are with, termination of the contract could result in an increase on insurance premiums if they’re more than five miles away from a fire station.
Huddleston said with the proposal ESD 3 would pay a little more than $800,000. In the current agreement, Huddleston said the cost had gone up from $779,000 to $859,000 and most recently more than $1 million.
“The problem we have with the contract is it’s taxation without representation. There no connection between the cost of real estate and the cost of providing fire services, there’s just not,” Huddleston said. “So if we pay a percentage of the operating budget of the fire department, then we have some protection in the ongoing cost and if the cost increases to provide fire protection to ESD 3, then the budget will go up and the amount we owe will go up. That was the most logical thing we could come up with.”
Residents who attended the meeting spoke against ESD 3 considering the termination of the agreement.
“ESD 3 is taxing the maximum amount legally possible 10 cents per $100 [valuation] and currently provides a fair service through the partnership in place with the city of Weatherford. I’m deeply concerned and disappointed that this board is looking to end that partnership with the city of Weatherford. According to Google Maps, I live 15 minutes from the station and if I have an emergency at my house that is far too long,” resident Hayden Harbold said. “But because of the partnership in place with the city of Weatherford if I were to have an emergency at my house, each of the three fire stations within the city of Weatherford are closer to my house and that is who responds to my emergency. I strongly urge this board to not take immediate action, but first show a clear plan, make sure all stakeholders are aware and that the best interest of the citizens is represented.”
Wally Wallace said he was on the committee that helped put together the agreement with Weatherford.
“Personally, I thought it was a good deal and showed how much was going out because we knew at the time that 4.8 [cents] of our tax dollars was going to go towards our agreement and that’s where it stopped. Hudson Oaks has grown so much and anytime you can combine two resources together it makes you a better service to better serve the community and that’s a win-win for everybody in my opinion,” Wallace said. “I’m just concerned at how fast we’re moving to maybe break that agreement if that’s the direction y’all go. If anything, just make it work a couple more years to give ESD3 time to build a new station and get better prepared. I just think it might be a little too early to jump into a single venture today versus a partnership that we have today.”