CONNIE SWINNEY • PICAYUNE STAFF
COTTONWOOD SHORES — City officials say they might seek fire services from an outside agency should the volunteer fire department reject a proposed fire service contract on Sept. 18 during a regular council meeting.
Negotiations between Cottonwood Shores city officials and the Cottonwood Shores Volunteer Fire Department recently stalled when the city refused to budge on a $33,000 contract for the 2014-15 fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1.
The VFD had requested $39,500, about a 25 percent increase from last fiscal year.
“We’re a small department. We’re putting in a lot of hours,” said VFD board secretary Janet Taylor-Carusi, who is the agency’s public information officer. “Training cost money, sending them to the training, the motels, meals and mileage. We need to supplement the equipment we currently have. Everything keeps going up.”
Cottonwood Shores officials said the offer stands at $33,000 per year, and the city is expected to take steps to contract with another agency if the department rejects the offer.
“(If) the (Cottonwood Shores VFD) chooses to be unreasonable in setting goals and objectives that will improve the VFD, the city has no choice other than to look elsewhere for this service,” Mayor Donald Orr said.
After an August council meeting, Orr and council members expressed concerns about the department’s training, membership and lack of outside revenue sources.
“Their present membership is marginal. Their training level needs to be increased. They’ve done a good bit of training this summer,” he said. “We need to have them work toward finding other revenue sources. This department gets 90 (percent) to 95 percent of revenues from either the city or the county. I would like them to put on more fundraising efforts.”
The VFD, which has 16 members, also receives about $23,000 from Burnet County as part of a so-called mutual aid agreement to assist all volunteer agencies in the county.
Of the city’s $33,000, about $7,000 is derived from volunteer emergency service funds or a $2 voluntary stipend for fire services and $2 for EMS services, officials say.
Cottonwood Shores VFD Fire Chief Heather Hyslop said volunteers will meet Sept. 16 to discuss whether to accept the city’s service contract offer.
Hyslop said she had participated in negotiations early in June; however, she had been asked to leave those negotiations to the volunteer agency’s board.
“The city discontinued negotiations with us because the meetings they had with members of the department were not conducive to compromise or even discussions,” Hyslop said. “It’s still an effort to get all on track and get on the same page.”
On Sept. 15, Carusi sent out a public statement warning that residents face higher property insurance costs because the city might potentially contract with an adjacent agency, lengthening the response time for emergencies.
“The citizens of (Cottonwood Shores) may suffer an increase in (an insurance services office) rating, causing their insurance rates to increase,” the statement read.
The mayor said city budget constraints and current VFD performance levels hastened the decision to maintain the same funding level as the previous fiscal year.
“Our suggestion to the VFD is to be more open and proactive with the residents so that the VFD can achieve more – membership, fundraising, (volunteer emergency services fund) donations and participation by the citizens of Cottonwood Shores,” Orr said.