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VA Council Approves Emergency Services Charges

It was a busy Tuesday night for the five-member Van Alstyne City Council on Tuesday as it approved eight items and tabled another.

The Van Alstyne Fire Department and Chief Landon Smith could have been considered the headliners for Tuesday night’s meeting as three agenda items directly concerned the department. The first item up for the department was a motion to pass an ordinance establishing mitigation rates for the deployment of emergency and non-emergency services by the fire department. What this actually meant was that Smith and the City are looking to recoup expenses for supplies and services when dealing with prolonged times on scene, at such events as traffic accidents, or bigger events such as train derailments or chemical spills on the highway.

The City would mainly bill insurance companies for whoever is at fault at the scene of an accident or whoever is receiving the services in other types of emergencies. The costs vary, going from $435 for a Level 1 response all the way up to $400 per hour with additional fees for a Level 5 response involving other services such as helicopter transport, multiple-engine call-outs and the like. Those billed would have 90 days to comply or face a 10 percent late fee plus another 1.5 percent charge every month the bill is not paid. In actuality, neither the City nor the fire department would handle the billing; that would be turned over to third-party billing agent Fire Recovery USA, which would claim 20 percent of monies recovered.

Smith explained that the city cannot bill an insurance company without an ordinance in place and most cities do have such an ordinance, including Melissa, Howe and Gunter. Ultimately, the motion was approved with a unanimous 5-0 vote.

Council voted 5-0 to approve action necessary to authorize Smith to seek the assistance of a grant writer to prepare an application for the SAFER grant. This grant would pay for 75 percent of new employee salaries for a set amount of time. The cost to hire the grant writer is $1,600 but the grant process itself requires an expert hand as it can take from six months to three years to hear back regarding approval. If approved, the department would then have 12 months to get authorization from the city council to accept the grant.

The next fire department item up for discussion did not garner another unanimous vote. Smith sought a second ordinance establishing fire inspection rates for plan review and inspection services by the fire department. VAFD has three certified inspectors currently on staff and Smith seeks to recover money lost to time in the field doing inspections. Presently, the department conducts fire inspections for free but as Smith pointed out larger businesses can take six to eight hours for a complete inspection and that is time lost. The requested ordinance would institute a charge for annual fire inspections which are required by the city.

Councilman Robert Jaska expressed concern that the new fees could hurt small businesses that might already be struggling. “This won’t be very popular since people haven’t been paying,” said Jaska.

Smith stated that the average charge for a small business inspection would by a half-hour minimum at a $47 per hour rate. Jaska proposed that the inspection be delivered at no cost to the business owner if it passes the first time around. That suggestion did not gain any traction and Council passed the ordinance as written in a 4-1 vote with Jaska the lone “nay.”

Council unanimously voted to approve Ordinance 719 and adopt a water conservation plan. As chronicled in the Leader in previous editions, the new plan would limit water use and provide for civil penalties for offenders. (See box for plan highlights.)

The plan allows for watering twice per week from April 1 – Oct. 31 between the hours of 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. As Mayor Teddie Ann Salmon explained, there are exceptions to the watering restrictions, including foundation soaker hoses at a maximum of two hours per day, hand watering of flower beds, ornamental fountains, washing of vehicles and trailers with hoses equipped with a shut-off nozzle, the hosing down of paved surfaces with hose and nozzle, commercial car washes, the filling of newly-constructed swimming pools, Jacuzzis and spas and the leveling off of each.

Councilman Larry Cooper and city attorney Julie Fort discussed the wording of the penalties until that portion of the plan was amended. The penalties will provide a warning for first offenses and monetary damages for those thereafter with misdemeanor charges to be levied in court. Any penalty not paid will be added to the next water billing cycle.

This will not be something the city jumps into, however, as Public Works Director Steve White will embark on an education program for residents to get everyone on the same page. The information will also be posted on the city’s web site at www.cityofvanalstyne.us.

There were two re-platting requests on the agenda, one off of Highway 75 in the city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction and one at Spain Road just north of the wastewater treatment plant. Both items were approved unanimously.

The split vote of the night concerned a rare sub-lease agreement requiring city approval as the city owns the land the building is on giving the council final say per a previous master agreement. Larry Nickell was requesting approval to sub-lease property located at 601 Martin Duke Rd. to AgSeal Poultry Foam, LLC. According to Nickell, the company produces polystyrene foam spray and insulation and that the product is water-based and non-toxic. Cooper, however, brought up the fact that the literature on the company stated that it produces polyurethane, a substance known to consist of toxic chemicals.

Further discussion was had regarding the company. Nickell said he was told by the owner that the company would be bringing four to five employees with it and expand to between 12-15 jobs within three years. Concerns over chemicals and the unsure nature of what the company uses and how it makes it (though it wouldn’t be manufacturing anything in Van Alstyne in its first year of operation) led Councilman Russell Moore to pose questions that Nickell was unable to answer. Though the lease agreement was drawn up by Fort, Council voted 3-2 (with Cooper, Moore and Timmerle Kelly in favor and Jaska and Billy Plake against) to table the vote until further discussion with the company owner could be had.

Meeting Notes: Two residents spoke on Tuesday night under Citizens’ Communications. Van Alstyne Friends of the Library president Shirley Houx thanked Council, the mayor and the city for their help with the Saturday breakfasts and the recent car show. She also thanked Bob Bishop for his tireless work in putting on the car show every year and donating the money to the organization…Resident Pat Patterson complained to Council that his wife went to the fire station to have her blood pressure checked and he received a bill for $395. He was directed to Fire Chief Landon Smith. Patterson also alleged that one Council member no longer lives in the city and should not be on Council. Since council members are not allowed to respond during this portion of the meeting it was unclear to whom Patterson was referring. The Leader has since learned that the councilmember Patterson was referring to was Russell Moore. Moore spoke to the paper and confirmed that he had a house placed on the market that sold much quicker than anticipated. When the house sold his new house was not ready to be moved in so the Moore family is waiting on the work on it to be complete. “We’re embedded,” said Moore. “We’ve lived here 14 years and my wife and I both love this town.”

Water Conservation Plan Highlights:

— limit watering to no more than two days per week

— limit watering to one day per week from November to March

— prohibit watering from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. from April 1 to October 31

— require ran/freeze sensors and/or ET or Smart controllers on new systems

— prohibit overseeding or planting of cool season grasses except golf courses and athletic fields

— irrigation systems to be inspected when backflow preventers are installed

— all-new irrigation systems must comply with state design and installation regulations

— encourage restaurants to not serve water unless requested

— prohibit filling ponds with potable water