Cost of fire service causes controversy

November 4, 2010 4:09:41 PM PDT
Neighbors in one local subdivision are worried there will soon be no one to call for help if their home catches fire. It all centers on discussions -- some even call it squabbling -- between the city of Baytown and Harris County. In the end, residents could either lose service all together, or foot the bill themselves. Currently the city and county have an agreement that expires at the end of March. But there's disagreement about what will happen after that, which leaves about 5,200 homeowners in limbo.

They're the men and women you want in an emergency, but for some residents living just outside of Baytown, there's a question whether firefighters will be there when they're needed.

"Worst case scenario, my house could burn down," said resident Yolanda Cessna.

Meadowlake Village is just one area in unincorporated Harris County which receives fire services from Baytown, services that for the past few years cost the county about $20,000 a year. The problem, according to the city manager, is that the county recently tried to get that service for nothing."

"The county went to zero, that's what generated this whole problem," said Baytown City Manager Garry Brumback.

While the county disputes that, there's no disputing what happened next. The city came back and upped the rates from $20,000 a year to $20,000 a month, according to the fire marshal.

Cessna said, "I thought it was so outrageous."

Residents say they already contribute to the cost of fire services through sales tax, living so close to Baytown. But the city argues it's not nearly enough.

In 2008, the city responded to 353 calls outside city limits, costing them $690,000. In 2009, there were 385 calls for $753,000.

Brumback said, "There's nobody in the world that wants to be able to provide fire service to anybody who needs it. We're just not going to do it for free. It's not the responsibility of our citizens to subsidize the unincorporated county."

Both sides say they'll continue to negotiate to try to get a new contract.


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