For a second time in two years, officials of a small North Texas town are asking voters to approve a new tax-funded fire station—but do they need one?
The Fairview Town Council approved placing $7.6 million in bond debt on the May 4 ballot to fund a replacement for Fairview’s outdated eastside Fire Station #1. The town of about 9,500 has a newer fire station on its west side that also houses emergency medical services (EMS).
Proponents of the bond say the old station, which is currently using portable buildings to house fire operations, needs to be rebuilt now to accommodate future demand, including expanded EMS. But not all residents, or council members, agree the town needs to be spending resources on a new fire station right now.
“My mindset is not ‘no’—it’s ‘whoa,’” said Seat 2 Council Member Cynthia Brugge at a town hall meeting last week to discuss the bond proposal.
In addition to the bond money, Fairview plans to spend $1.2 million from existing funds to construct the proposed 12,000-square-foot fire station. Including $1.5 million the town already spent on land for the new facility adjacent to the current station, the total project cost tops $10 million.
Mayoral candidate and Seat 3 Council Member Henry Lessner, who led last week’s town hall meeting and bond presentation, said the $8.8 million construction cost is a maximum “not to exceed” amount and the station’s true cost won’t be known until the town gets bids on the project.
Based on recommendations from a council-appointed citizens group, the replacement station would include living quarters, equipment bays for current fire equipment, and space for a future ambulance. The design would allow for future expansion when the need occurs, based on buildout of Fairview’s commercial district and increased emergency call volume, according to the town’s bond election website.
Brugge said she’s not opposed to expanding fire services as appropriate, but she believes the town should wait to take on new debt for the station until added development in the town’s commercial district produces more tax revenue and demand for services increases.
“We are already doing our part with a second station,” Brugge told Texas Scorecard. “Over time, we will be able to rebuild this fire station.”
A report evaluating Fairview’s fire department, commissioned by council and delivered after they approved the bond proposition, indicated the town needs two fire stations—but not a new station, Brugge noted.
Fairview’s fire and EMS department employs two dozen full-time paid firefighters and emergency staff, plus a dozen paid part-time firefighters, who man the two stations. Most communities the size of Fairview have volunteer fire departments.
Brugge’s fiscally conservative approach to town spending and debt is shared by many Fairview residents, who say the current facility is adequate for now and could be expanded or replaced more cost-effectively. Brugge and others are concerned about the town taking on more debt and believe funds designated for the station could better serve the community if directed to additional public safety personnel and equipment, or other town expenses.
“If I had to choose between paying firefighters … paying paramedics, I would pay for that before I paid for the fire station,” Brugge said. Fairview’s fire department costs over $3 million a year to operate, accounting for a third of the town’s annual operating budget—about 83 percent is for labor.
Town hall attendees also expressed concerns about costs. One resident said the City of Bryan recently built a fire station twice the size of Fairview’s proposed replacement for less money. Others suggested the department consider innovative uses of current resources, including mutual aid with neighboring departments in Allen and McKinney, to meet the town’s needs without overburdening taxpayers.
“We talk about 9,500 people because that’s how many people are paying for it,” Brugge added.
Lessner said the bond package will not increase the town’s property tax rate, currently set at just under $0.36 per $100 of assessed taxable property value. But at the same rate, residents’ tax bills will increase as homeowners’ property values continue to rise.
Fairview currently owes $28 million in debt principal and interest. Debt repayment in this fiscal year is supported 81 percent by property taxes and 19 percent by water and sewer revenue.
The town plans to pay the estimated $465,000 annual debt service on the new 30-year bond by drawing $175,000 a year from its sales tax-funded Community Development Corporation and Tax Increment Financing funds, and $290,000 a year from its general fund.
Fairview voters overwhelmingly defeated a $25 million bond in November 2017 that would have funded the fire station and other municipal facilities. By a 70-30 percent margin, residents shot down that bond package and the property tax increase that came with it. The high-stakes election drew a remarkable 25 percent voter turnout.
Voters turned out in double digits again the following May to vote out incumbents who had pushed for the bond and elect three new town council members including Brugge, Tony Mattei, and Roland Feldman. The three ran on a commitment to “keep Fairview country” and keep town government transparent and fiscally responsible.
This May, along with the new bond, the mayor and three other council positions are on the ballot. All four seats are open.
Two more town hall meetings on the proposed bond are scheduled:
- Tuesday, April 9, 7:00 p.m., Fairview Town Hall
- Wednesday, April 17, 7:00 p.m., Heritage Ranch
Early voting in the May 4 election runs April 22-27 and 29-30. Voting information is available at fairviewtexas.org/bondelection.html.