City eyes bond for fire stations

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Denton city staff recommended that the City Council consider another bond election in May — one that would fund renovation of the city’s oldest fire stations. But the council didn’t appear to have the stomach for another proposition so soon after November’s $20.4 million street bond election.

Members of the fire department piloted two city vans and, with members of the city staff and the council in tow, lead a field trip to four of the city’s seven fire stations Monday morning.

The tour showed the contrast between facilities in the department’s newest station — Station 7, opened in 2007 — and the three oldest. Station 4, at 2110 E. Sherman Drive, is 46 years old; Station 3, at McCormick Street and Interstate 35E, is 42 years old; and Station 2, on East McKinney Street near Loop 288, is 34 years old.

Over a buffet lunch at Station 3, City Manager George Campbell told the council that the rehabilitation of the three older stations was overdue, in part because of the poor quality of the living quarters. In addition, male and female firefighters and paramedics share sleeping quarters and restroom facilities.

During the tour, the council also saw how new trucks are taller and wider, and have all but outgrown old fire stations.

Campbell told the council it would cost between $13 million and $15 million to make the changes needed. There was enough property in the current locations that all three stations would likely be rebuilt in the same locations, he said.

The financing could raise the city’s property tax rate about 1.8 cents, putting Denton’s property tax at nearly 72 cents per $100 valuation.

In other words, the average Denton homeowner’s taxes would increase about $29 per year to pay for the renovations, according to Bryan Langley, Denton’s assistant city manager and chief financial officer.

Knowing that voters just approved a $20.4 million street bond measure in November, and would likely be asked to consider another $55 million package in November 2014, most council members balked at another election.

They cited several concerns, including not knowing the next time the Denton school district will call a bond election, wearing out the city’s welcome with volunteers, and confusing voters with varied propositions and impacts.

Council member James King said he didn’t think voters would react well to a $15 million bond package that raises taxes this year and a $55 million package next year that doesn’t.

Denton will have paid off enough bonds by 2014 that the city will have room to pay for more capital programs without raising taxes.

“If they don’t get the concept, you may be putting the whole program at risk,” King said.

Instead, the council appeared to go for a compromise proposed by council member Chris Watts, who said he didn’t dispute the need for the work to be done.

Watts proposed the city move up the $55 million in propositions planned for 2014 and combine them with the $15 million for fire stations and hold the election in November instead of May.

The council asked the city staff to prepare additional information to evaluate that recommendation, including financial forecasts and the list of potential projects.

The tour followed a new report on the city’s fire services in relation to the location of current and future fire stations.

Other recommendations included building the first phase of the fire training facility and a new fire station at the airport for about $9.4 million in 2014, improvements at Stations 5 and 6 for $900,000 in 2015, and acquire property for two new stations for about $1.1 million in 2016.

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881. Her e-mail address is pheinkel-wolfe@dentonrc.com .


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