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Willow Park

Council reassures residents before ESD vote


It’s no secret that as Nov. 8 approaches, some folks in Willow Park are concerned about the future of their fire department.

That’s why, at Tuesday’s meeting, the city council offered reassurance that, regardless of the outcome on election day, there will be a fire department in Willow Park. Whether it will be run by the city or by Parker County Emergency Services District 1 (ESD 1) is up to voters as they will go to the polls to decide if the department is or is not annexed by ESD 1.

City staff, working with ESD 1 Fire Chief Stephen Watson, developed several transition points should the annexation be approved by the voters. The plan is to turn these talking points into a binding interlocal agreement between the city and ESD 1.

City officials note, however, the discussion is non-binding and anything beyond that is subject to the approval of the ESD 1 board and the city council — and everything is pending voter approval of the annexation.

“These are things we felt like were needed to get our thoughts out to the public, council and ESD1,” Assistant City Manager Bill Funderburk said.

The transition deal points are: 

  1. ESD will guarantee employment of current Willow Park Fire Department personnel. 
  2. ESD will lease the current fire station, which is attached to the Willow Park Public Safety Building (PSB,) and will purchase the existing city hall property for construction of a future fire station. 
  3. The city will lease the current fire station and the ESD will lease the current city hall to the other respective entity at an agreed upon fair market rate. The lease for both entities will be for a two-to-three-year period, or until the city can construct a city hall at a site to be determined. 
  4. The sale of real property will be an agreed upon amount based on appraisals and supporting documentation. 
  5. ESD 1 will acquire all assets as needed for the operation of the fire service. With respect to the current Willow Park Fire Department fleet, each entity will secure an appraisal on each vehicle, and then agree upon an amount for each vehicle based on the two appraisals. 
  6. ESD 1 will be required to have a ladder truck stationed in Willow Park. 
  7. The purchase of Station 2, located near the City of Willow Park Public Works Building, will be determined by ESD 1 to see if it is required for operations. If not purchased, the city of Willow Park has a need for the building and will utilize it. However, city officials said fire service operations are the priority with this facility. 
  8. Upon the transition of personnel from the city to the ESD, the city will pay the ESD for fire services. It is anticipated it will be for quarters three and four of the current fiscal year. 
  9. The interlocal agreement will be completed by April 1, 2023. This is also the transition date for fire personnel to go from the City of Willow Park to ESD 1. All talking points and action items will be concluded on or before Sept. 30, 2023 — the end of the fiscal year for both entities.

District 5 Council Member Nathan Crummel raised the question of if the vote is against annexation, when can it be put on the ballot again? Watson said citizens can petition to have it back on the ballot as soon as November of 2023.

“This is a dynamic process. There’s a lot of moving parts,” Watson said. “We have a good process and an agreement in principle”

A couple citizens addressed the council with questions and concerns. One accused city officials of wanting to “sell the fire department” to use funds to build a new city hall. Mayor Doyle Moss quickly responded with a comment that, while the city is desperately in need of a new city hall, such thinking is completely wrong.

“We did not look into this ESD thing for the sole purpose of building a city hall,” Moss stressed. “It’s right for the firemen, it’s right for the city.”

Willow Park is stretched to the max budget-wise. All $1.9 million expected to be brought in from property taxes in the 2023 fiscal year city budget is expected to go to fund the police department. The fire department will take up $1.4 million of the expected $1.7 million income from sales tax. 

So, money for streets, parks and other projects is at a minimum, to say the least. However, if the city is no longer funding the fire department, a significant amount of money would become available for such projects, along with a likely tax decrease, city officials are saying.

As for ESD1 having an interest, Watson has called it a strategic move to streamline services throughout the county with everyone working for the same agency. ESD1 covers 311 square miles and 70,000 residents, including Aledo, the Annettas, Springtown, Peaster, Poolville, Morningstar, Silver Creek, and Lajunta. 

The ESDs are funded by a 1.5% sales tax in unincorporated areas and an ad-valorem (property) tax of up to 10 cents per $100 in incorporated areas such as Willow Park.

In previous discussions Watson has even discussed the potential for increasing the fire department staff in Willow Park should the annexation go through. 


Honoring Freedom House

The council honored the Freedom House and its work to end violence and abuse.

The proclamation, read by Moss, included:

“In the City of Willow Park in recognition of the important work done by survivors, domestic violence programs and victim service providers, I urge all citizens to actively participate in the scheduled activities and programs sponsored by Freedom House and other community organizations to work toward the elimination of intimate partner violence.

“Whereas, in just one day, across the U.S. and its territories, nearly 75,000 victims of domestic violence sought services from domestic violence programs and shelters. That same day, more than 9,000 requests for services, including emergency shelter, housing, transportation, childcare and legal representation, could not be provided because programs lacked the resources to meet victims’ needs; 

“Whereas, the impact of domestic violence is wide ranging, directly affecting individuals and society as a whole, here in this community, throughout the United States and the world, and whereas, racism, homophobia, transphobia, ageism and discrimination based on physical ability, nationality or other factors help to perpetuate domestic violence and make finding safety even more difficult for some victims; whereas, the need for safe house continues to be rated as survivors’ most urgent need; 

“and whereas, the City of Willow Park joins with others across Texas and the nation in supporting victims of domestic violence, as well as local programs, state coalitions, national organizations, and other agencies nationwide who are committed to increasing public awareness of domestic violence and sending a clear message to abusers that domestic violence is not tolerated in Willow Park; 

“Whereas, domestic violence impacts millions of people each year, but it can be prevented. Preventing domestic violence requires the collective voice and power of individuals, families, institutions, and systems – each whose “No. 1 Thing” adds a valuable and powerful component to transforming our communities.”

Moss then proclaimed October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month and asked that those in attendance give those working at Freedom House a round of applause.


Dispatch renewal

The council voted to renew an agreement between the city and the Parker County Sheriff’s office for dispatch services. The cost for this fiscal year is $77,048, with subsequent years and cost being $84,096 in 2023-24, $91,144 in 2024-25 and $98,192 in 2025-26. 

Willow Park Police Chief Carrie West said contract years’ cost are based on 2021-22 salaries and benefits. She also noted that the agreement can be ended with 30 days notice.

Funderburk thanked West for saving the city money by negotiating a lower cost than was originally brought to the table, said to be in excess of $100,000. West said it was a joint effort with other police departments throughout the county.

“It wasn’t just me. It was a group effort,” West said, adding, “This is a reasonable cost.”


First November meeting moved back

The council voted to move the first meeting in November back a week to Nov. 15. The reason is so it won’t coincide with the Nov. 8 election.


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