Cottonwood Shores fire service contract lapses; deal in works

CONNIE SWINNEY • STAFF WRITER

COTTONWOOD SHORES — A contract bid between the Cottonwood Shores Volunteer Fire Department and the city has lapsed, prompting extended negotiations and a potential “performance-based” agreement tied to the agency’s training and staff, officials say.

The deadline to renew the annual contract ended Sept. 30; however, the volunteer agency’s board agreed to continue services as they hash out a new contract with the Cottonwood Shores City Council.

Last fiscal year’s contract — including emergency service fees collected from water bills — totaled $33,000.

“When I first started this process back in 2007, they had almost 50 percent more membership and trained firefighters than we have today. Things aren’t going in the right direction,” Mayor Donald Orr said. “The fire department is down in membership from last year, and one of the goals was to increase their membership.”

Roger Wayson and Stephen Sherry were appointed to work with volunteer agency officials to discuss possible milestones tied to payment in a proposed performance-based contract.

Cottonwood Shores VFD spokeswoman Janet Taylor-Carusi said she expects the parties will find a suitable resolution.

“They sound worse than they are. We’re very open to this. It was put forth to us in an approach that we feel we can meet,” Taylor-Carusi said. “We look forward to setting new goals next year.”

In the past year, at least two more staff members have trained to become certified emergency medical technicians (EMT), and the agency received a donated brush truck from the Texas Forest Service.

“We are very confident there’s going to be a contract,” she added. “There’s going to be a resolution reached between us and the council members, and we will move on as far as working on these performance-based issues.”

She said the agency reported a membership of 14 volunteers.

“(We’re working on) developing more membership. We’re bringing on more training opportunities, including HAZMAT and rescue training,” Taylor-Carusi said. “Our biggest problem with any volunteer agency anywhere is membership. People go to work, come home and spend time with their family. They’re really not interested spending all their time down at the fire hall.”

City officials say they would also like to enhance the so-called ISO (Insurance Services Office) rating of the community tied to fire suppression services to help reduce insurance premiums for residents, Orr said.

The ranking gets better as the number becomes smaller with a 1 being best and 10 being the worst.

Standards for the ratings are based on qualifications, including level of fire suppression capability, equipment, staff numbers and training.

More than half of the city of Cottonwood Shores is rated an ISO 9, which is due in part to lack of fire hydrants in the population of about 1,200 people.

The other half is rated a seven.

“That portion that is in ISO 9 right now probably represents 80 percent of the ad valorem tax base,” Orr said.

“We’re doing things from the council’s standpoint that are attracting people and bringing them in, and the fire department needs to follow suit,” he added. “We need things to get better, things to get bigger. The city is growing.”

City council members are expected to discuss a proposed fire service contract at an upcoming regular council meeting Oct. 15.

connie@thepicayune.com

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