By Martin Couch
The Springhill Volunteer Fire Department was established on April 10, 1975, however later this year, pending a decision from Saline County Judge Lanny Fite, its service will come to an end and be taken over by the Bryant Fire Department services.
The Bryant City Council okayed an agreement Thursday to take it to Judge Fite.[more]
“Springhill (fire department) will go away,” Bryant Mayor Larry Mitchell said. “That’s why the County Judge is involved. He and Quorum Court has to reassign that district to give it to the city of Bryant or Collegeville or Salem. Because of the best fit of the location, it’s going to be Bryant first, Collegville second and Salem third.”
The Springhill Fire Department provided fire protection subsequent to its incorporation for 30 years to cover the rural areas within its district. With the passage of time and the growth of the corporate limits of Bryant, portions of the land in the district were annexed and are now located within the Bryant city limits.
When the annexation took place, Bryant became responsible to provide fire protection and service for the annexed areas within the city. Secondly, the Springhill Fire Department had to stop levying assessments for fire protection in the area annexed by Bryant.
With Bryant’s periodic annexations of land in the Springhill district, the loss of assessable land caused a reduction in revenues collected by Springhill. Because of that, the Springhill district cannot continue to financially function as a full service fire department, but it and Bryant have worked together to transfer the fire protection and service needed by residents and lands in the district that have not been annexed.
“We were approached two years ago by Judge Fite and the Springhill Fire Department board, because of the annexation,” Bryant Fire Chief Randy Cox said. “Their funds were starting to dwindle and they weren’t able to continue to provide service. Over the past three years we have run the bulk of the calls in that area due to the fact they have those problems.
“The time has come that they want to close business and want Bryant to take over the area,” he continued. “There are four to five square miles out there and probably 1,200 homes that need protection and they’ve asked the city to look at it. They came to us with a contract that wasn’t feasible. We gave them some information and most recently they want to close on July 1.”
Cox asserted that no one will be without fire service.
In a Fire Protection Agreement that considered mutual promises and commitments, “Bryant shall commence providing fire protection and service through it’s Bryant Fire Department to the persons and properties residing, lying and located within the boundaries of the Springhill district that are not already served with such protection and services by Bryant. Simultaneously, the Springhill Fire Department will cease providing fire protection and service to the area.”
Bryant will be able to begin fire improvement assessments or taxes on the Springhill district in 2011. And as per the Agreement, “the Springhill district will need to have and maintain an administrative fund with which to pay its administrative costs.”
Springhill’s remaining funds will be used to pay off debts for equipment and administrative costs. It can sell off or dispose of its equipment and the net funds produced would be deposited in the administrative fund.
The agreement says that if there are funds remaining in the administrative fund upon the dissolution of the Springhill district and paying the costs has been honored, the remaining funds are to be distributed to the property owners within the Springhill district as the district’s board may determine or for such other charitable purposes.
“The volunteer fire department who normally do protection in a district issues a flat fee or a scale fee depending on the value of the property for fire protection,” Mitchell said. “The district assesses all the property owners in the area and the people have to vote on it to create it, so in Springhill Volunteer Fire Department district, residents voted to incorporate that to have a volunteer fire department in their area. When those funds were depleted, they decided to disband, but the fees can’t be taken off unless the people vote to take it off or the board chooses to take it off themselves. The taxes are collected to pay off debts on their equipment or for whatever expenses they might have, but they took that off probably without the authorization they needed and, after Judge Fite visited with them, they have reinstated the back-billing of the people in that area and those taxes will go to the fire department.”
The reinstating of the back taxes has been a minor snag in the disilution of the Springhill fire department to this point.
The Agreement says, “the Springhill district has debts and shall proceed with the business of retiring the district’s debts and winding down its fire fighting operations. To do so, the district shall proceed to sell its fire fighting equipment and related assets to raise capital to retire its debts. Any equipment or supplies may be donated or sold to other volunteer fire departments in need for such at the discretion of the district’s board of commissioners. The parties understand that the district’s equipment, supplies, cash and other assets are not to be transferred to Bryant or the Bryant Fire Department as part of this Agreement and that the sole consideration shall be the transfer of the district’s annual assessment collections, subject to the district’s possible need to replenish its administrative funds to Bryant in exchange for the fire protection services to be provided by the Bryant Fire Department to the persons and properties residing, lying and located within the Springhill district.”
When this process is complete, the agreement will be terminated and the obligation for fire protection will go to Bryant as well as the assessment and collection of taxes.
“We have an inter-governmental agreement with all the surrounding volunteer fire departments and cities to assist them with fire calls,” Mitchell said. “We already cover 70 percent of the fires out there. Springhill has offered a service contract and we’re doing a counter offer, but personally I believe individuals who live there bought that equipment with taxes they paid and that equipment should stay to help protect them and shouldn’t be sold off.”
Bryant has already purchased property on Hilldale Road at the northern boundary of the city for a possible new fire station in the future.
“We have an old station that was on the Stillman properties at Justus Loop and Stillman Loop on Springhill Road that is in poor shape with fire fighters working out of a double-wide mobile home,” Cox said. “That has to be replaced with two stations and now that we have funding, we are going to attempt to build the next station farther north and follow up with one around the Target complex later on.”