Breckenridge Texan

County Commissioners reinstate burn ban; fireworks allowed in county

County Commissioners reinstate burn ban; fireworks allowed in county
June 25
08:27 2019

Following the recommendation of Breckenridge Fire Chief Calvin Chaney, Stephens County Commissioners reinstated the county-wide burn ban at their meeting on Monday, June 24.

After several months of no burn ban, Chaney said he recommended putting the ban in place as preventive measure moving into July and August because of the drying effect the hot temperatures and wind have on the tall grass and vegetation.

“On top of that, we have a very heavy fuel load this year,” he said. “The bar ditches have not been mowed. That’s a good preventive measure. A lot of times that slows down a fire coming to the highway.”

“We’ve had a long time for people to burn,” he said. “I think now’s the time to get it where they can’t burn, except for the four exceptions that are allowed.”

The exceptions to the burn ban include firefighter training; public utility, natural gas pipeline or mining operations; planting or harvesting of agricultural crops; and burns that are conducted by a prescribed burn manager.

Chaney said the ban only applies to the open burning of brush outdoors and will not affect the use of fireworks, which will still be permitted during the Fourth of July holiday on privately owned property in Stephens County, outside the Breckenridge city limits.

“Fireworks are not included in the Burn Ban,” Chaney posted on the Breckenridge Fire Department’s Facebook page. “We only stress to be safe with shooting fireworks. We stress that adult supervision is a must, along with water on hand as you shoot your fireworks from your own property that must be outside the city limits.”

Within the city limits of Breckenridge, fireworks are not allowed by city ordinance. Specifically, the ordinance makes it illegal to sell, give away or discharge any “squib, firecracker, torpedo, Roman candle, skyrocket or other thing containing powder or other explosive manner, or any fireball” within the city limits of Breckenridge, according to Chaney’s post.

County Budget Workshops planned

At the meeting, commissioners also scheduled budget workshops to follow each of their two regular meetings during July.

Stephens County Judge Michael Roach said commissioners are required to have a proposed budget for the next fiscal year on file with the Stephens County Clerk’s office by July 31. He said the July workshops will be used to develop the proposed budget.

He said in August they will have three days of budget workshops in which they will meet with each of the county’s elected officials and go over their portion of the budget. All those workshops will be open to the public, he said.

Then he said, they will then have two public hearings before they vote to adopt the 2020 Fiscal Budget and next year’s tax rate in September.

Roach said, right now it looks like the tax rate for property owners in Stephens County will go down, but the revenue to the county will go up in a large part due to mineral values.

County employee benefit program renewed

Commissioners approved the renewal of the county’s employee benefit program with the Texas Association of Counties Health and Employee Benefits Pool for next year. The program provides health care coverage and life insurance for Stephens County Employees.

The renewal includes a 4 percent cost increase in the Health and Dental plans rates for employees, but no increase for the Life Insurance and Vision Plans for the 2019-20 plan year.

Betty Hardwick Center reappointment

Commissioners also reappointed Judy Patterson to another two-year term on the Betty Hardwick Center Board of Trustees effective Sept. 1, 2019. Patterson represents Shackelford and Stephens Counties on the Center’s board.

County road mileage certification tabled

Also during their meeting, commissioners tabled action on providing the Texas Department of Transportation with updated information for their county road inventory system about the number of miles of county roads in Stephens County.

According to a letter from TxDOT, the certified county-maintained road mileage for Stephens County in 2018 will be submitted in September to Texas Department of Motor Vehicles for disbursement of the title and registration fees and to the State Comptroller’s Office for disbursement of the Lateral Road Bridge funds. The certified mileage of county roads for Stephens County in 2018 listed in the letter was 349 miles.

Updates made to the TxDOT system by Aug. 31, 2019, will be reported in September 2020.

Roach said this is a something the county has had on file for a while, but some of the commissioners didn’t feel it was accurate. So, they wanted to put it on the agenda so they could have a public discussion about it as a forum.

He said the accuracy of the road mileage becomes very important when the county is asking for things such as FEMA funding following a natural disaster, like the flooding in the past, and when applying for grants. It’s also used to determine how much each precinct gets in their road budget.

“What we want to do is be able to verify that and get a really good number on what kind of miles we have in county roads,” Roach said. “We turn around and use that mileage number for funding of those percents with tax dollars. So that guy that has say 50 miles of county roads may not get the same funding as somebody that has 150, because the formula is broken up by how many miles they have. So we want to make that really accurate.

Governmental Surplus Program

Commissioners also turned down a request by a local volunteer fire department for Stephens County to participate in the Texas Facilities Commission Federal Surplus Property Program with their department.

The Texas Facilities Commission manages the disposition of surplus property donated to the state by federal programs. Qualified entities like cities, counties and state agencies can purchase surplus equipment from the government through their program.

As an example, Roach said there was a pump that cost $4,000 or $5,000, but through the program, the volunteer fire department could purchase it for around $200. He said if it were feasible, it would save the departments a lot of money.

However, Stephens County Attorney Gary Trammel said that in order for the fire department to qualify for the program through Stephens County, the county has to be supplementing the volunteer fire department in some major fashion.

He said a representative from the program he spoke with on Monday told him the county has to be buying the department’s vehicles or supplying them with gasoline, or they have to pay them a stipend of some kind per man for each fire they go out on.

Trammel said the volunteer fire department that requested they participate in the program suggested that all the county might have to do in order to qualify them for the program was to fund them for $1 per year. Trammel said he specifically asked the program representative if that was true and she told him that would not qualify as a substantial funding and does not qualify for the program.

“We would qualify if we paid for all of their gasoline or if we paid for each guy that goes to a fire something for each time that he goes, something substantial,” Trammel said. “But just a nominal $1 per month or $1 per year, she said that doesn’t qualify.”

Trammel said she told him they don’t require documentation as to what the county does as far as funding, but they do require a letter from the county judge and commissioners saying that they substantially fund them in whatever manner it is.

“At this point there’s nothing we can do to help them unfortunately,” Roach said. “I hate it, because on the one hand, you’d like to help the volunteer fire department, but we just can’t do that, not right now.”

Although a volunteer fire department might not qualify for the surplus program, there are other state programs aimed at assisting rural fire departments, such as The Texas Rural VFD Assistance Program through the Texas A&M Forest Service.

It provides funding to rural VFDs for the acquisition of firefighting vehicles, fire and rescue equipment, protective clothing, dry-hydrants, computer systems and firefighter training. It is a cost-share program funded by the Texas State Legislature.

 

Story by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan

Cutline, top photo: Stephens County Commissioners Will Warren (center) and Eric O’Dell listen to Breckenridge Fire Chief Calvin Chaney discuss reinstating a county-wide burn ban at Monday’s County Commissioners meeting. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

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