Some volunteer fire departments in Kerr County have objected to the budget proposed by Kerr County Judge Rob Kelly.
Kelly’s budget, which calls for no increase in the property tax rate, makes large cuts in order to acheive a small deficit compared to previous years — a $11,144 shortfall, compared to this year’s $2.7 million deficit — while dealing with all the unforeseen expenses and shortfalls associated with the pandemic. One of the proposed cuts is allocations to volunteer fire departments.
“We are aware of the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and understand the need to cut budgets for cost savings,” said the Center Point Volunteer Fire Department in a post on its Facebook.com page. “We do not understand how the county can expect our departments to continue to run efficiently and serve the citizens of the county effectively if we can not keep the lights on or fuel in our apparatus.”
The VFD’s post goes on to state that if the county does cut funding to local fire agencies, then it could mean having to respond to fires driving vehicles with tires that need to be replaced, “putting them and anybody else on the road in danger.” Or, it could mean firefighters responding to blazes wearing damaged gear or not enough protection, or using “a frayed rope bag” to pull a flood victim to safety, the post stated.
“Your Kerr County firefighters spend countless hours training, meeting and responding to emergencies to protect you and expect nothing in return other than a small percentage of your tax dollars to continue operating,” CPVFD posted.
The Turtle Creek Volunteer Fire Department also had something to say about the proposed cuts.
“How can the judge balance the budget of over $2 million by taking (funding) of $200,000 away from nine (VFDs)?” posted the VFD on its Facebook page.
The county in this year’s budget allocated about $25,000 to eight VFDs and about $7,000 to one VFD.
Former County Clerk Jannett Pieper weighed in on one of the VFDs’ posts, saying that “with all our property taxes going up, they can afford the essentials.”
Kelly proposed helping VFDs form their own emergency services districts, which would fund operations through new property taxes.
As Kelly predicted, this year’s budgeting process may be particularly difficult, with declining sales tax revenue due to the COVID-19-related economic slowdown; and increased costs, such as those associated with coronavirus infection prevention measures and housing inmates who otherwise could be sent to state correctional facilities or ICE custody. Texas Department of Corrections and ICE facilities are closed due to new arrivals due to the coronavirus outbreaks those agencies are dealing with.
“I know there’s going to be a lot of talking, there’s going to be a lot of questions, there’s going to be a lot of pulling of hair and gnashing of teeth — I understand this, but we have to start somewhere,” Kelly said during a May 11 budget discussion with commissioners. “It’s going to be painful. We’re going to get through this.
Kelly’s proposed budget also calls for no new hiring and defunds the Veterans Services Office, which is not a service mandated by the state. The judge’s proposed budget leaves the animals services department alone, he said. In discussing the judge’s proposed cuts, Kerr County Precinct 2 Commissioner Tom Moser noted that animal adoptions are not a mandatory service. The county is only mandated to provide rabies and animal control services.
Kelly said items not included in the proposed budget could be added as the process continues over the summer.
“I see this as a cut and paste going forward,” Kelly said at the May 11 meeting.
Kerr County Precinct 1 Commissioner Harley Belew expressed support for the judge’s methodology.
“Anybody that wants to stay in the budget makes their best case for it, and we’ll see if we can afford it,” Belew said.
The county commissioners will begin holding budget workshops in June.