TAFT, Texas — On Wednesday, November 30th City of Taft officials and the Taft Volunteer Fire Department and Rescue, are scheduled to meet after conflict between the two entities.
The volunteer fire department is opposing the city's attempt to create a new fire chief position.
During the November 22 Taft City Council meeting, members were set to vote on the following agenda item:
Adopt Ordinance No.1102, allowing for the creation of the position of Fire Chief as a City Employee for the City of Taft, with all rights, benefits and duties of a City of Taft Employee. Authorizing the City Manager to immediately post the Job Announcement, conduct interviews and select same after consideration of applicants. Allowing for the City Manager to immediately appoint an Interim Fire Chief while the applicants are being considered and position filled permanently. Allowing for the creation of the City of Taft Fire Department Bylaws and Policies and Procedures. Allowing for the Interim Fire Chief to assume all duties of oversight of current volunteer firefighters.
The item was tabled. Now, both entities hope to come up with an agreement during Wednesday's meeting with their lawyer's present.
Scott Patton is the Captain and Chaplain of the volunteer organization. He said he joined the team about four and a half years ago. However, he said the department itself has been serving the small community for about 100 years.
"These are just individuals that work through the day, any time they're off, and that alarm goes off, they jump in their cars, they come up here and they risk their lives for the community. They give their heart and soul for this community." said Captain Patton. "We have done our job extremely well. We have managed everything we've done. We take care of fires. We have quick response times. We have saved structures."
The Interim City Manager, Sid Arismendez said, "There's this misconception on their part that we're being critical of their performance, that is not the case. They do an astounding job, they provide for the citizens of the community."
Arismendez explained, ideally, the city is hoping to find a fire marshal who is qualified for that position and fire chief.
"It's about being able to track what is being done as part of the documentation that we need for certain grants. We need accurate records and reports done periodically." the interim city manager said.
The fire department's legal team with Gale Law Group provided the following statement to summarize the volunteer's stance:
The Taft Voluntary Fire Department (“TVFD”) has been providing services for the City of Taft and surrounding areas for over 80 years and is currently a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. While there might be circumstances where a VFD would desire to voluntarily “merge” with services currently being provided by city or county department, there is no authority for a city or county to involuntarily “absorb” an otherwise separately formed entity, especially when such entity is a nonprofit organization recognized by the IRS. Most nonprofits such as the TVFD typically contract with the entities they provide services for so that trucks, equipment and the like can be purchased, such “payment” by the City of Taft has been in the form of the actual trucks and equipment instead of a monetary amount. That said, the TVFD expects that an agreement better delineating the services being provided to the City of Taft is warranted and expected to be entered into in the near future so that the TVFD can continue providing the exemplary services it has in the past.
Patton also noted that the volunteers have been choosing their own members for as long as individuals could remember. Ryan Smith is also the current chief for the volunteer group, and he reports to the city.
"They need to know everything we're doing because it protects the city. It's their insurance, so on and so forth, by all means we want to be transparent with that. But when it comes to the fire department, fire personnel it's a different situation and we feel like the control is not theirs." said Patton.
"The non-profit just gives you tax exempt status, it doesn't make you a separate entity. And I think again that's another misconception that they have. We have some non-profit, some 501(c)(3)." said Arismendez. "At the end of the day the city still has to ratify their actions. So, they do what they do, and it comes before the council, and the council as a whole will either approve or reject whatever those non-profits take. The department doesn't want to do that. They are adamant that they don't want to answer to the council and because they think they're 501(c)(3) they're independent."
Arismendez further explained why he believes the two entities aren't separate, "They use the city's taxing information, they use the city's tax structure. They are not a separate entity. To say that, that is not correct. And the police officers don't get to pick their police chief, the public works employees don't get to pick who their director is, the people who work in utilities don't get to pick who their boss is, and I don't know of any other fire department that allows fire members to pick who their chief is."