HICKORY CREEK — Officials in Hickory Creek and Lake Dallas are raising some concerns about a contract for fire services with the city of Corinth and are examining options for starting up their own fire department.
Hickory Creek’s Town Council held a special meeting Sunday to discuss the matter.
Residents from Hickory Creek and neighboring cities and towns filled the council chambers, some overflowing into the main reception area of the town hall, for the 1 p.m. meeting. Many expressed support for the Lake Cities Fire Department and voicing concerns that the meeting was being held Sunday as to fly “under the radar.”
Some applauded the council for attempting to negotiate a contract with Corinth that would be in the best interest feasibly of the community.
Hickory Creek Mayor John Smith said there was no hidden agenda in calling the meeting on a Sunday afternoon, but he said the issue was too important to wait for the council’s scheduled meeting the third week of this month.
He said there’s been a break in communication between the town and Corinth. Smith said the town received the fire service contract in December for review. Upon reviewing the contract, he said the town asked that Corinth include in the contract a one-year opt-out clause, an opportunity to be billed quarterly rather than monthly, a decrease in the consumer price index paid, and that any money paid toward fire services that’s not spent on salaries or equipment be returned to the town.
When Corinth returned the contract in June, the only change included was billing being moved from monthly to quarterly.
Getting rid of the fire department was not the town’s issue, he said, but rather it was the terms of the contract for a new five-year deal that didn’t sit well.
“Our fire service is No. 1, but we also have to look out for the bottom line of our citizens and the impact down the road,” Smith said. “I’m only going to do what’s best for the town.
“We’ve got to do our due diligence when it comes to this.”
Hickory Creek, Lake Dallas and Shady Shores have until September to sign the contracts.
Hickory Creek, Smith said, has not received response from Corinth in negotiating the contract and as a result, the town has started to conduct an “exercise” into how much it would cost to establish a fire department among Hickory Creek and Lake Dallas.
The proposal was first presented to Lake Dallas on June 22, according to Hickory Creek officials.
Figures for the start-up have been based on discussion of costs with area fire agencies. There had been initial discussions of using private ambulance services, which has since been ruled out because it would not be affordable, Smith said.
Hickory Creek and Lake Dallas leaders believe starting a new department would cost between $450,000 and $550,000 up front, with annual expenses of between $900,000 and less than $1.2 million.
They said those numbers are not concrete.
In 2007, the Lake Cities communities decided to dissolve its freestanding fire organization and its governing board. At that time, Hickory Creek, Lake Dallas and Shady Shores began contracting with Corinth for fire services. The communities agreed to a five-year deal for fire service with Corinth, which will expire this September.
Terms of the new Lake Cities Fire Department contract being proposed by Corinth include a five-year interlocal agreement among the four Lake Cities, an annual increase of consumer price index plus 1 percent with a floor of 2 percent and a cap at 6 percent and the creation of a vehicle and equipment replacement program in which the four Lake Cities communities are being asked to contribute a combined $200,000 the first two years of the five-year contract and an additional $50,000 each for the additional years thereafter with contributions reaching $350,000 by the fifth year of the contract.
Corinth City Manager Jim Berzina said expenses have since gone up and Corinth has absorbed the costs for the last five years.
During that time, Corinth has used a more than $1 million bond to do so. The vehicle and equipment replacement program establishes a base, Berzina said, in which all four communities share the costs for purchasing and replacing equipment.
“It seemed fair that everyone had a cost associated with replacing equipment,” he said. “We’ll just stay in contact with the cities and try to come up with an arrangement that’s best for most.”
On Thursday, an estimated 300 people packed City Hall in Lake Dallas, most to comment and hear discussion on the fire services contract. No action was taken at the meeting.
Lake Dallas Mayor Tony Marino said his council’s issue has nothing to do with the quality of service rendered by the Lake Cities Fire Department. He said the issue is financial, and the city must consider its options.
According to figures presented at a June 28 meeting, its being proposed under the new contract that Lake Dallas pay Corinth a base funding of $935,747 for fire services and an additional $42,600 into the vehicle and equipment replacement fund for the first year of the contract for a total of $978,347. By year five, it’s proposed that Lake Dallas pay more than $1 million in base funding and $74,550 into the vehicle and equipment replacement fund for a combined total of $1,087,433.
He said he’s hopeful Corinth will revisit its budget and present the cities with one that is fiscally responsible.
“The numbers weren’t financially acceptable at this time and that’s just where we’re at,” said Marino following Hickory Creek’s Town Council meeting. “The same opinion was taken by [the] Hickory Creek council.
“We need to be fiscally responsible to the city of Lake Dallas and do what we need to do instead of accepting these increases over the next five years.”
Looking into the possibility to open their own fire department has worried some Lake Cities firefighters, who fear they could lose their jobs if such a thing is to occur, and that residents’ safety in Hickory Creek and Lake Dallas would be compromised and at risk. They also argued the high expenses associated with starting up a department, the possibility of home and business insurance rates increasing and local residents receiving half the level of service they already receive, possibly by inexperienced personnel.
According to residents and council members, firefighters went door to door in some neighborhoods to explain their plight.
Many residents expressed appreciation for the department at both Hickory Creek and Lake Dallas council meetings, sharing stories of how firemen have saved their lives. Some urged the councils to keep the department in tact while others asked them to seriously think through the decision of establishing a new department and whether it was worth the risk.
Some expressed outrage that they had not heard about the council meetings sooner.
Hickory Creek’s council concluded its meeting Sunday with a plan to reach out to Corinth, Shady Shores and Lake Dallas officials to set up a workshop to discuss the contract. In the meantime, the council will continue its “exercise” of looking at partnering with Lake Dallas to create a new fire department if a contract can’t be worked out with Corinth, Smith said.
BRITNEY TABOR can be reached at 940-566-6876. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.