By Kelly Stadelman
For The Parsons Advocate
After lengthy discussions and clarifications from the city’s attorney and the Thomas Volunteer Fire Department, the Thomas City Council unanimously approved a new ordinance enacting a fire service fee for its residents.
The new fire service fee will be effective on July 1, 2024, giving the city officials time to review and adequately classify each structure within city limits. The classification is based on the type and use of the structure, with industrial structures, multi-family residential units, non-residential units, and residential structures each having a different fee.
The new fire classification fees are: Industrial Structure $12 per month, Multiple-Family Residential Unit Structure $8 per month, Non-Residential Unit Structure $8 per month, and Residential Unit Structure $5 per month. The new fire service fee shall be effective upon commencement of construction.
Mayor Jody Flanagan said that currently, water and sewer customers of the City of Thomas have the option to pay a dollar per month to the Thomas Volunteer Fire Department.
“Right now, it’s optional, but there is a bunch of grant money out there for fire departments so they can get new equipment and have enough money to pay their taxes, insurance, training, and stuff like that,” he said. “It’s very expensive to operate a volunteer fire department. We’ve been fortunate over the years to have such a good volunteer fire department.
“The state is requiring the fire departments to have a mandatory fire service fee to be eligible to apply for these grants. It can’t be a donation. This new fee will make the fire department eligible for two grants, totaling around a quarter of a million dollars.”
Chief Christopher Pase and Assistant Chief/President Randy Davis of the Thomas Volunteer Fire Department attended the special council meeting on Dec. 18 to answer the council’s questions about the new fire service fee ordinance.
Recorder Kim Trathen asked how the fire department decided the fire fees for each structure unit classification.
“I would like to understand where this number came from and how to explain it to people,” she said.
Davis said the fire department started at a lower fire service fee but increased it based on the rate of the cities in the immediate area. Additionally, the department is applying for a state grant of $150,000 and wants to ensure it is eligible.
“The rest of the cities around that did $5 to get the state grant, and that’s why we went with $5,” Davis said. “With this amount, we wouldn’t raise it for several years.”
Pase added that the department also had to consider its expenses when developing the fee rates for city structures.
“Our insurance roughly every quarter is $8,000, so I mean that’s why we went with $5 a month,” Pase said. “Also, we are looking to build a new building on the side of the existing station.”
Council member Erika Smith asked if the fire department could provide the city with a copy of their annual budget for residents to review. Davis responded that the fire department would give the city a copy of the report.
“Once a year, we put the budget in the paper, and residents can also come look at our books, and we can show them how much we spend,” Davis said. “The money collected on July 4th goes toward next year’s fireworks, while the money from the cakewalks and hotdog sales goes to the fire department. We have separate accounts for each.”
Flanagan requested that fire department members keep city officials updated on how the fire service fees have been used.
“I would just like for you guys to come to one or two of our meetings a year and update the city so we can put it in the minutes,” he said. “Every six months, come down, give a brief report, tell us what’s been going on and what was purchased.”
Davis and Pase agreed that the public needs to be educated on equipment costs and the required training and keep city officials informed.
“Right now, all our gear needs replacement, and you’re looking at $300,000 to $400,000,” Davis explained. “The mandatory training is expensive too.”
Flanagan also encouraged the fire department to contact residents in the Thomas Volunteer Fire Department responding area who are outside city limits to request donations.
“Your responding area is large and includes Hogback, Leadmine, and Sugarlands,” Flanagan said. “It’s up to you guys to send out donation cards to get those residents living in that area to donate.”
Davis and Pase pointed out that some of the residents inside the responding area of the Thomas Volunteer Fire Department are already paying a fire service fee, but the money does not go to them.
“The people down there call us and say, ‘Hey, we’re paying this Parsons, and we’re in your territory,’” Davis said.
The legal detailing the new ordinance enacting a fire service fee and the structure unit definitions ran in The Parsons Advocate on Oct. 11 and 18. The city council held three readings of the new ordinance as required by law.
Members voting in favor of the ordinance at the second and third reading include Trathen and council members Christine Kozan, Charlie Davis, and Erika Smith. Council member Janice Mullenax was absent. City council members accepted the resignation of Junior Davis earlier this year.
At the next regular council meeting on Jan. 9, members will vote on an amendment to the new fire service fee ordinance. They are adding “short-term rentals” to the non-residential unit structure definition.