Royse City’s plan to add two paid fighter department positions to its payroll is not sitting well with at least one council member, Charles Houk, who questioned the timing of the proposed changes to the budget.
The Royse City Council on Tuesday, continued its discussion on the 2018-19 budget which, if passed on Sept. 11, would fund the salaries of two firefighters. Each paid firefighter would cost the city an additional $92,000, which city officials say would cover health insurance and benefits.
According to Royse City’s 2018-19 proposed budget, the fire department is asking for an additional $197,250 for salaries and benefits compared to the 2018 budget.
Houk, councilman for Place 1, has said in previous meetings that he appreciates the work of the Royse City Volunteer Fire Department, but is hesitant to commit the city to a paid fire department.
He said he expects the fire department to continue requesting more paid positions in future years as more revenue becomes available.
“I don’t look at it as two full-time firemen right now, I look at it as six full-time firemen forever,” Houk said to council members.
Houk said he has spoken to Chief Richard Bell and Deputy Fire Marshal Tanner Dietz of the Royse City Fire Department, and thanked them for their taking the time to answer all his questions.
He, however, said he still does not believe starting to appropriate two full-time positions at the fire department should be the city’s priority.
“What I would do to reallocate that money away from full-time firemen to some of these other things that we’ve identified as priorities, like parks, streets and meeting the demand of our builders and growth around here,” he said.
After the meeting, Houk told the Herald-Banner that he still does not feel comfortable about the proposed budget, though he still has some research to do before the vote next week.
Mayor Pro Tem Clay Ellis said having a full-time fire department could lead to faster response times and the city having a better “fire protection rating,” which could lower insurance premiums for homeowners and businesses.
Houk asked Larry Lott, executive director of the Royse City Community Development Corporation whether the city’s current rating has been a “deal breaker.”
“I’ve never heard of it being a deal breaker per se, but we do believe there is an advantage for businesses and attracting business to have a lower rating,” Lott said.
James Branch, councilman for Place 5, said he did not wish to recommend any changes to the proposed budget before it is voted on.
He said he would like to clarify that he does agree with Houk in regard to his comments about the fire department needing more funds in future years for more full-time members.
“If we vote two in this year, we from here on have to consider this every year, adding one or two to the department. Two will not get us anywhere; this is a commitment to build that fire department from here on,” Branch said. “Once we do it, there is no turning back.”
Mayor Janet Nichol told the Herald-Banner that she welcomed the discussion on the budget, and said each council member’s voice should be heard.
She said she supports the proposal to add two full-time firefighters, and said it’s time that the city starts having a paid fire department.
“To me, we are making a commitment for two firefighters, we’re not making a commitment for two the next year and two more the following year. If I’m sitting in that position and the money is not there this time next year, I won’t recommend it,” Nichol said. “It needs to be something that is looked at every year and I think it’s time that we get started.”
The proposed Royse City budget for 2018-19 can be found in the following link: https://bit.ly/2NT8pmR