By Alton Porter
As Sept. 30 draws near, it appears that Houston County Emergency Services District #2's (ESD2) decision to end its contract with the Kennard/Ratcliff Volunteer Fire Department (KVFD) on that date is final.
Efforts by Kennard city officials and the KVFD to get ESD2 officials to reconsider that decision and efforts to work out some other arrangement between the parties have all failed, said Mayor Jesse Stephens, following a city council meeting held Monday, Sept. 12.
"That will be over on the Sept. 30," Stephens said, giving an update on the status of the ESD2-KVFD contract. "There will be no money swapped. Or, we won't get any money or anything other than the bill that might come through for this September. So, we're parting company at the end of September."
ESD2 members voted at a June 30 meeting to cancel its contract with the KVFD, effective Sept. 30, citing management issues and related matters within the KVFD, ESD2 President George Crowson Jr. told the Courier in an interview on July 7.
Since then, Kennard officials have attempted three or four times to work out an agreement with ESD2 officials to no avail, Stephens said.
During the city council meeting Monday, Lori Parrish, a member of KVFD and wife of Fire Chief Don Parrish, reported that Don Parrish and Alderperson Donald Lamb attended an ESD2 meeting on Aug.25.
Lori Parrish said Lamb spoke on behalf of the city at the meeting, and Don Parrish and Lamb turned in "budgets and reports" to the ESD2 officials. In addition, they turned in a record of KVFD's expenses for the last nine years, she said.
"Honestly, we (Kennard officials) tried on several occasions to work something out, but they (ESD2 officials) had no interest in it," Stephens said. "Our only choice is to do our own thing, and we'll cover the City of Kennard.
"And they will do whatever they've got to do because they contracted to do the whole surrounding area. They'll have to do whatever they think is best," he said, adding, ESD2 members have announced they plan to build a fire station "four miles on the other side (east) of Ratcliff."
As far as Kennard is concerned, "We have our own equipment," Stephens explained. "We have our own fire station. We have our own water. We have our own fire department members. We're going to cover the City of Kennard city limits.
"We will cover what they call mutual aid calls. If there's a house on fire five miles down the road (outside Kennard city limits) and they need some water or whatever, we'll take our tanker or whatever.
"But, as far as just going out and covering a grass fire that's seven miles out, it'll have to be Ratcliff (that responds to calls like that) because they're the ones who're going to get all the money from the ESD. They're not going to give any of it to us.
"We're certainly not going to leave anybody that's in a wreck or a house that's on fire or whatever. We're going to go and do whatever we can."
Stephens said the KVFD received $28,000 a year from ESD2 over the last couple of years under the contract that required the KVFD to respond to fires and other emergencies that occurred in ESD2 territory in the area surrounding Kennard.
"We're going to have to make it up out of our water sales from our Water Department and other revenue we've got (which is about $25,000 in taxes)," he said about the lost revenue the city was receiving in $7,000 quarterly payments. "Not only are we concerned about the utility, breaking even or whatever. But, we're also concerned about the fire department not having any revenue coming in. We're kind of between a rock and a hard place this year."
However, Stephens said he's confident the city will have enough revenue to cover its expenses. "We're okay," he said. "The problem we've got is there's going to be a time lag to get everything going. But, we're just going to be frugal in our expenditures.... We've got our work cut out."
Stephens said he believes the citizens of Kennard would chip in to make up any lack of revenue the city might have. "If we had to, we could send out a letter to the people of Kennard and probably get $10,000 or $15,000. We're not going to count on it, but if we get in a tight ... our people are going to chip in and help us out."
Don Parrish said the city will need to consider renaming the fire department Kennard Volunteer Fire Department, dropping Ratcliff from the current name, since Ratcliff will be part of ESD2 and no longer part of the department with the City of Kennard. He said he's consulted an individual who will provide an estimate on redoing the lettering on the department's vehicles.