In special session Friday at noon, the Sulphur Springs City Council heard public comment regarding 2017 tax revenues and voted to eliminate the position of Fire Chief. They also passed on second reading of an ordinance adding Wireless Infrastructure Management in order to regulate the physical use, occupancy, and maintenance of city rights-of-way by wireless network providers, providing an effective date of September 1, 2017.
During comments on tax revenue, two citizens questioned the rising values of property. One resident stated that she has lived in the same house in Sulphur Springs for 40 years and that she did not think the value of her home had increased. She asked that if the city is growing, why those in older homes have to pay an increase. Another resident asked why the tax rate can’t be lowered proportionally to the percentage of valuation increase. In response, Councilman Craig Johnson noted that the Tax Appraisal District sets the property values and the city accepts them. It was also noted that school revenues are affected by the property values being increased.
Later in comments, City Finance Director Peter Karsten noted that the increase for the city will be slight. Although the tax rate for the City of Sulphur Springs will remain at 44-cents per 100-dollars total tax revenues will increase thanks to a 2.5% increase in property values for 2017 over the previous year.
In a vote of 5-1, the council eliminated the position of Fire Chief. Before the vote, Councilman Dan Froneburger, speaking from a prepared statement, opposed the elimination of the position. Noting a study of 13 cities that had made the same move the council would make, six of those cities had returned to the old model of two departments—Police and Fire—and two chiefs. He stated that those cities that returned to the two chief model when they found eliminating the Fire Chief position was not worth the cost of cross training. Froneburger was also concerned about the loss of experience in not having a fire chief. He pointed out that in his position as Director of Maintenance for Sulphur Springs School District; he works closely with the fire department in several areas.
A concern for putting lives at risk was not only raised by Froneburger but also by Wes Armstrong, a Captain with the Plano Fire Department. Armstrong, who owns property in the city, said he was not defending the former fire chief because he did not know him but that he was defending the position. He stated that when fighting fires, someone needs to be outside the fire to watch and direct the approach to fight the fires. He stated that in a large structure fire, someone needed to command the attack on the fire. He also noted instances where both a fire chief and police chief would be needed at the same scene such as an active shooter at a fire.
Another citizen questioned if there was anything the citizens could do to stop the council from what had already been done.
Councilman Clay Walker stated that the council was doing what they could to streamline the city and the city’s budget. Concurring, Finance Director Karsten said that Sulphur Springs is between a small town and larger town but that it costs the small town as much as the larger town to provide required level of facilities for waste water treatment and other services. City Attorney Jim McElroy noted that the city is building a $19-million dollar waste water treatment plant without raising taxes. He stated that other cities in the area are not able to do that.
The city council will meet again Tuesday, August 29th at noon in the council chambers to hold their second and final public hearing on the increase in tax revenue.