Fairview Town Council Digs Deep into Proposed New Fire Station No. 1
(This article reports on actions and deliberations of two Fairview Town Council meetings that occurred on November 28 and December 4, 2018. The November meeting was a special meeting called only to focus on issues regarding the proposed replacement of fire station No. 1 while the subsequent meeting on December 4 was the regularly schedule monthly meeting).
Fairview Council Tackles Initial Construction Concepts for New Fire Station No. 1
On Wednesday, November 28, the Fairview Town Council met before a capacity crowd to begin the same process that many new-home buyers on a budget must tackle: deciding what is wanted versus what is needed and what might be within their means. It is difficult and tedious work that can also often be gut-wrenching. The Council has begun what will be an ongoing series of deliberations leading up to the February 20, 2019 deadline for the May 2019 bond election; by all accounts, a very ambitious goal given the work that lies ahead.
Mayor Darion Culbertson set the tone for the evening when he observed that, “Our goal must be to create the best new fire station No. 1 that we can build, and to also ensure that it is the most efficient, and at a cost that Fairview residents will support, even if we are able to fund the project without any tax increase.” The need for a new fire station has arisen because of concerns the current station, which has deteriorated so severely over time, is no longer efficient nor habitable. One of the three existing buildings, the original Fairview Town Hall structure, was abandoned earlier this year and replaced with a temporary leased structure.
A special three-Councilmember task force to work with Fairview staff to create a Request for Proposals (RFP) from among qualified construction companies was appointed and includes council members Bill Nichol, Tony Mattei, and Roland Feldman.
City Manager Julie Couch reviewed what she calls, “Seven key elements of the proposed RFP”. The list is intended to move the process forward and includes a series of tasks focused on topics that have been raised by Councilmembers and that have been drafted and reviewed by the Mayor and submitted to the consultant for pricing. The list includes:
· Minimum staffing and forecasting demand for the addition of resources, generally, is the Town adequately staffing existing resources (Fire and EMS personnel) and is it adequately projecting the growth needs for additional resources in equipment and staffing?
· Current and future administrative staffing - is the Town adequately staffed for (Fire and EMS) administrative needs and is the planning adequate for future administrative staffing needs?
· Forecasting the need for an additional primary ambulance - Is the Town adequately projecting the anticipated needs for a second primary ambulance. What are best practices in phasing in the addition of a second primary ambulance?
· What are the best practices under National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards and International Standards Organization (ISO) standards for siting fire stations and does the Town meet those standards?
· What are the best practices in introducing priority dispatching and does that result in identifying certain EMS calls that only require dispatching of an ambulance and not an additional first responder unit? What are the advantages and disadvantages of this type of dispatching?
· What are the best practices in adding squads or Rapid Response Vehicles (RRVs) to fire fleets, how are they most frequently used? If they are added should they be staffed in addition to staffing of other fire apparatus and ambulances (In the fire service, a Squad is an all-purpose vehicle that is much smaller and less expensive than a fire truck with big ladders that commonly costs $1 million or more).
· What are best practices related to future trends in the fire service that Fairview should consider in its future planning?
It was agreed that a final draft of the proposed RFP will be shared by the Task Force/Staff with the entire Council before the next meeting of the Council on December 4.
Mayor Culbertson shared the Council’s schedule of work for the three months preceding the February bond election filing deadline. “December”, he stated, “will be largely devoted to questions regarding the cost of the project. In January the Council will address methods by which the project might be funded, while the first two weeks of February will allow the Council to discuss the project proposal in detail with residents preceding the filing deadline.” Culbertson says, “This Council is committed to engaging with residents so that everyone will clearly understand how and why the decision was reached. We want to allow for any last -minute modifications resulting from these discussions.”
City Manager Couch reviewed key milestones for the Council and residents including the recommendations formulated in June 2018 by the 51-member Citizens’ Resource Group (CRG), appointed in January 2018 to assist the city with capital planning issues; the authorization in June 2018 by the Council of consultants to work with the CRG to refine options for the replacement of Fire Station No. 1; the August 2018 presentation to the Council of redrawn options for the project; several discussions of station planning by Council and residents between August and November 2018; the November 2018 decision by Council to accelerate planning for the new station in time to meet the February 20 deadline for filing a bond proposal for the May election and to do so including cost comparisons with the DeSoto fire station project along with possible cost reductions.
Experts with Byrne Construction Services, a Fort Worth based construction company that provides construction management and general contractor services, focused on the Desoto fire station project and potential cost reductions for the Fairview project. Daniel Anderson of Byrne reviewed the cost differences between the two projects based upon the most current proposals for each. Fairview’s current cost estimate for construction only is $7.1 million while Desoto’s, which was bid in 2018, (Fairview’s project, if approved, could not be bid until 2020) at $5.8 million. The cost differences are largely attributable to the time differences in bids, a somewhat smaller site in DeSoto, more site preparation work in Fairview and the inclusion in Fairview of a dedicated Emergency Operations Center (EOC). Much discussion took place with respect to the value of a dedicated EOC in Fairview, something most other area fire stations do not possess. Instead, it was suggested that a smaller conference room, currently capable of housing 20 persons during a storm emergency might be reduced in size to ten persons while also serving as the EOC.
That discussion was typical of other wide-ranging issues and suggestions that may be considered. The earlier reference to “gut wrenching decisions” had to do with substantial discussion about the advantages and disadvantages of including a dedicated EOC capable of withstanding significant tornadic winds. It was noted that most fire stations in Texas, with some exceptions such as Lubbock where tornadoes are common, are designed to withstand winds of 125 mph and to provide survivability of two hours. Discussion about constructing a dedicated EOC capable of withstanding winds of 250 mph, while highly advantageous would also be exorbitantly expensive. Councilmember Feldman noted that in the last sixty years, Collin County has suffered only three EF-3 tornados (Winds of 136-165 mph) and no EF-4 (Winds of 166-200 mph) or E-5 (>200 mph) storms. No decision was reached but it appeared that a consensus among council members and residents agreed that the 250-mph standard might be unnecessary.
The proposed site of the new Fairview fire station lies along Highway 5 (Greenville Avenue) and would be accessed at Lakeridge Road. It was agreed that modifications to the intersection of Highway 5 and Lakeridge Drive would be needed to accommodate fire apparatus and large delivery trucks. The site is also large enough to accommodate future needs for administrative and training facilities, many of which may not be needed for perhaps fifteen years.
It is evident that the Mayor and Councilmembers are taking extraordinary measures to ensure that resident’s input is both encouraged and carefully considered, and that whatever construction proposal makes it to the bond election will be broadly supported as a result.
Verbal Brawl Erupts at Fairview Council Meeting Over Proposal to Replace Fire Station No. 1
Decorum, normally the defining feature of Fairview Town Council Meetings, apparently took the night off at the Council’s December 4 meeting. An ugly verbal brawl erupted during the Council’s follow-up discussion about the issuance of a Request for Proposals (RFP) with respect to the plans for a new fire station.
The Council was finalizing discussion regarding the imminent issuance of an RFP for a fire service-expert consultant to help it craft a construction plan for the proposed new fire station when new Council member Cynthia Brugge, who was first elected to the Council in May, read a lengthy statement opposing the construction.
Several times during a ten-minute soliloquy, Brugge unequivocally asserted, “I am not opposed to the construction of a new fire house to replace Station No. 1”. Those emphatic assertions, however, do not align with her Facebook post of October 29, which was researched after several critical comments were made about it during the brouhaha that followed. Brugge’s statement prompted immediate and harsh responses from several of the people in Council Chambers.
Mayor Darion Culbertson, normally unflappable, collegial and very measured, responded, “There may be an alternative to building, but the Council has spent three months talking and this Council has said we are done with discussion, it is time to move forward. Let me remind you also that the Council’s decision was unanimous.”
Brugge responded, “This town is investing too much money in fire protection. I’m not saying I’m opposed. We owe our residents to be frugal.” Culbertson retorted, “You say this will cost too much. You throw numbers around that have no validity, they are wrong, and your statement is entirely irresponsible and unfair to this Council.” Brugge, replied several times, “Our fire department is under-funded. We can’t find money to cut in our budget. The fact is, we don’t have many fires. There have only been four fires in Fairview in the last 12 months.” Fairview Fire Chief Jeff Bell thereupon corrected Brugge, “That is not correct. We responded to 53 fires this year.
Former Fairview Fire Chief Dick Price addressed Brugge angrily, “You don’t know what you are talking about. You talk about costs with flippant numbers that just roll out of your mouth. You don’t listen, and you don’t learn. I have made several attempts to educate you in the past several months. You have your own agenda. Despite all of this, I am still willing to try to educate you, even though I am now really (angry).” Brugge denied having an agenda but again, that does not seem to square with her Facebook post that refers to three of the former council members who supported the failed bond election having been defeated in the subsequent council elections and it says, “Next May (2019) we get to finish the task including a new mayor.”
Jonathan Cocks, CPA, a member of the 51-member Citizens Resource Group (CRG) that was appointed in January 2018 to provide the Fairview Council with a source of continuing citizen input on this and other town infrastructure issues, added, “When you were elected Council member Brugge, you were elected to represent all residents and I am one of your constituents. The CRG came to near consensus on the need to replace fire station No. 1 with a new facility. Stop throwing muck into the well”. Among the actions taken by the CRG was a survey to determine residents support for the replacement of Fire Station No. 1 to which 89% responded in support of a new fire station. When asked how much they thought the project should cost, 26% said between $10 and $15 million dollars; 30% said less than $10,000,000, both well above the costs estimated so far for the replacement project.
Throughout the course of the deliberations on the project, Mayor Culbertson noted that while the Council has not yet made any definitive conclusions about the scope of the construction, much less its cost, it is possible, he has said several times in the last few months, that financing the project might be possible, but by no means certain, without impacting property taxes at all.
After more than an hour of heated back and forth, the Mayor suggested the Council move on to additional agenda items.
Among the other issues addressed by the Council:
· The appointment of Tenitrus Bethel, formerly Executive Assistant to the Town Manager, as Town Secretary.
· Approval of the proposal by Republic Services, provider of trash and recycling to Fairview, of a rate increase effective in 2019, of $1.03 per home (Senior residents are exempt from trash removal rate increase). Rick Bernas of Republic briefed the Council on the need for the rate adjustment largely as the result of the increasing cost to provide recycling services. This stems from the decision by China, previously the world’s largest importer of recycled trash not to accept most recycled goods and the resulting collapse of commodity revenue that, heretofore helped to offset the cost of recycling removal. This is a national issue and according to Bernas, is expected to be cyclical. However, Republic is accelerating its education efforts to help residents recycle more efficiently that should, if successful, result in the mitigation of future recycling rate increases. The Council expressed interest in working with Republic Services to educate Fairview residents about proper recycling measures. Ron Serpa, a resident of Heritage Ranch, suggested using the 2,000 residents there as a test case for enhancing the efficiency of recycling, something that only 38% of Fairview residents do. Even worse, about 40% of the items they do recycle are also unacceptable. Any paper, for example, that you can easily push a finger through, like tissue paper, should not be recycled nor should any, otherwise acceptable, paper product that contains food residue as is common with pizza boxes.
· The Council also approved adjustments to water and sewer rates for 2019 that reflect increases in costs from the North Texas Municipal Water District that supplies water to Fairview and most other towns in Collin County. The Council approved a rate adjustment for water utilization of 7.9% and sewer service of 13.25% (those with septic tanks are exempt).
· Approval of a preliminary plan that addresses the need for additional water lift capacity (water pumping station) in Fairview as the result of population growth. James Chancellor, Town Engineer shared an innovative Interlocal agreement concept that he has negotiated with Allen and the NTMWD that would result in Allen financing 75% of the cost of a new pumping station. Fairview’s cost would be 25% and includes a five-year exemption from all construction and operating cost payments. This creative approach is anticipated to save Fairview very substantial construction and operating costs. James Chancellor was heartily congratulated by the Council for his innovation. Project details and a final proposal will be presented to the Council in the near future.
The next regular meeting of the Fairview Council takes place on Wednesday, January 2. Ordinarily the meeting would have taken place, as it always does, on the first Tuesday of each month but that would have been January 1st in 2019. Additional special meetings of the Council are likely to take place in December, January and February in order to complete work in connection with the next bond election.