County judge tells city to pay more for fire services

Brian Cuaron

Aug. 16, 2011 at 3:16 a.m.

The Victoria City Council got a warning Tuesday from the county judge - pay more for fire services or lose substantial revenue.

The Victoria Fire Department provides services to the county through a contract the city has with Victoria County. The contract calls for the county to pay 14.5 percent of the department's budget, or about $1.5 million after it was renegotiated in 2008, said county Judge Don Pozzi.

However, the contract's cost would rise to $1.65 million in 2012. Pozzi said after the meeting the increase was because of the purchase of two new trucks.

"The contract has got to the point where we need to look at options to see where we may be able to save money," Pozzi said.

He wanted the contract brought down to $1.5 million for 2012. But he also wanted it brought to $1.25 million for every year after that.

If the city refuses to lower the fire services contract's price tag, the county will look elsewhere for such services for 2013, Pozzi told the council. The county's options are: Redirect funds to volunteer fire departments, look at a privatized fire department, or create an emergency services district.

Pozzi said the latter wasn't an option he wanted because it would create another governmental taxing entity. But there were a lot of things the county could do, he said.

"You could lose in revenue a substantial amount of money that we're now paying you," said Pozzi, later saying this referred to the contract renegotiation for 2012.

He added that the city would still have the same amount of firefighters without the county's funding.

The judge ran into opposition from the council.

"We are county taxpayers," said Councilman Tom Halepaska.

Finance Director Gilbert Reyna, Jr., said 24 percent of the fire department's calls are from outside the city limits. Halepaska noted that number was higher than the 14.5 percent of the department's budget that the county is asked to pay.

"I don't understand your point, Mr. Halepaska," Pozzi shot back, saying he was asking for equity.

Halepaska said the judge may have thought it was unfair for the city to try to build a good fire department. Pozzi said he never suggested that.

Paul Polasek, mayor pro tem, said the contract can be renegotiated this month during budget process, if a council member moves for that.

Pozzi said after the meeting he would discuss the contract for 2013 and later years with City Manager Charmelle Garrett in October.

Pozzi said fire and EMS services will continue outside city limits no matter what.



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