It’s clear the dispute between the Navarro County Emergency Services District #1 and the Powell Volunteer Fire Department will take some more time.
On Wednesday evening, the Powell department’s chief, Kyle Ware, and the department’s lawyer, John Jackson, said the department would cease operations, unable to reach an agreement with the ESD, but by the end of the evening they had retracted that decision and were agreeing to negotiate some more.
The ESD is still going ahead with plans to start its own volunteer fire department, however, according to its lawyer, Ken Campbell, who was present at Wednesday’s meeting.
Which is fair enough, since there’s still a petition circulating calling for an election to kill the ESD entirely.
Ware said the Powell fire department will continue to respond to emergencies in the interim.
“We’re going to continue to provide service to the community,” he said. “If we can’t come to some kind of agreement, we may lose at least one of our trucks.
“They made a lot of concessions for Kerens, but it’s not enough for our council,” Ware said.
Jackson said following the meeting that negotiations would continue.
“We’re going to try work out some kind of interim agreement to see if it’s fixable, or if it’s a divorce,” Jackson said. “We’ll sit down and see if it’s workable.”
“The board just wants to make sure this end of the district is protected,” said David Foreman, president of the ESD board.
The ESD board did vote to approve the Kerens contract Wednesday, after spending about 45 minutes in an executive meeting with the board’s lawyer, while the audience of 23 firefighters stood outside talking amongst themselves and watching the trains speed through Powell in the darkness.
Kerens firefighters said signing the contract was a bitter pill to swallow, but they had to do it or disband.
“The main reason is they’ve got the contract on our station,” said Ted Stovall, who’s been with the department since 1961. “They’re passing out applications to start their own fire department. It would be holy chaos if we didn’t want to leave the people with no support.
“We knew it was wrong, but we had no choice,” Stovall added.
The new contract still gives the ESD ownership over Kerens’ assets, including all the trucks and equipment, and that’s one of the key reasons why Powell refuses to sign a similar contract.
Powell’s fire department is tied to the City of Powell. If Powell signs the contract, they’ve given ownership of city property to another taxing entity, one entirely controlled by people who don’t live in Powell.
Campbell said that part of the contract would be amended for Powell, but only for the equipment purchased by the city.
The ESD bought one of Powell’s trucks, and if they split up, the truck goes to the ESD, Campbell said.
If Powell does try to take a more independent stance, they might be allowed to follow the pattern set Wednesday by the RC/287 Volunteer Fire Department, which paid the ESD back $2,182. It was money the ESD provided to help the fire department buy eight new breathing apparatuses. When RC/287 volunteers realized they might lose ownership of the equipment to the ESD under the new rules, they quickly offered to pay back the ESD. The ESD board voted three to one on that issue, with Fran Nickels voting against accepting the reimbursement.
“You never want to have confusion,” said Dwight Larson, assistant chief with RC/287. “It was always our intention when we got a truck or bunker gear that they were ours. This clears it up. It’s ours, that’s the way we looked at it.”
The RC/287 department has a different, less dependent, arrangement with the ESD than Powell or Kerens, however. Only part of the RC/287 territory overlaps with the ESD, so they have an arrangement where the ESD pays them back for specific runs and expenses. The RC/287 department doesn’t have to answer to the ESD as Kerens does under its new contract.
Campbell said the changes in the amended Kerens contract were minor, but the bigger changes were ones that were required by new state laws dealing with ESDs.
“They were very gracious and understanding once they understood the law and what the district is trying to do,” Campbell said of the Kerens firefighters.
“There will be all the same changes in the Powell contract, however, if the city has paid for it then they can’t give it away, so anything the city’s paid for they retain,” Campbell added. “Regardless, we’re hoping we can work out something.”
Janet Jacobs may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Want to “soundoff” to this article? Email: Soundoff@corsicanadailysun.com