Van Alstyne city officials met for a budget meeting on Saturday, Jan. 6, with the Van Alstyne city council, police chief, fire chief and other departments present at the meeting.
Police Chief Tim Barnes presented his budget and was complimented on how well it was presented by council memberSuzon Crowell. “Very good job on your budget,” Crowell said. “It is very easy to read.”
Barnes discussed the issues with being short staffed and trouble finding police officers. “We’re having a hard time offering competitive wages,” Barnes said. “Taking that in consideration, it is hard to find qualified applicants. If you look at the amount other cities are offering new recruits, it makes our wages seem like minimum wage.”
One council member asked about recent criminal justice graduates. “What about newly graduated criminal justice majors? What do they look for?”
“They all look for what the city has to offer,” Barnes said. “What kind of equipment do we have, and what other benefits there are available.”
Barnes said the decline of officers is partly due to environment. “In the past, I was having to turn away volunteers, we were maxed out at 15,” he said. “That is not the case anymore, between compensation issues and the environment, that number has decreased.”
Barnes said the police department is currently understaffed, making all the officers stretched out with responsibilities. “To be at full staff, the department needs nine officers,” Barnes said. “Currently, we have six. The department is short three patrol officers.”
“What about adding the rank of Corporate for a pay raise?” another council member asked. Barnes replied, “I would need an officer with time on the department to put in that position to make supervisor decisions. The longest officer on payroll has only been on staff for three years.”
Crowell asked for a little bit more clarity in the report. “Can you add that info on your monthly report in the future?” Crowell asked. “That way, we’ll know how many officers the department is short.”
Council member Teddie Ann Salmon asked about the military Humvees. “What are the military vehicles used for?” Barnes informed Salmon the Humvees are used for disaster vehicles.
“Did we buy them? Do we pay for the upkeep? Why do we have them?” Salmon asked. “They were donated by the government; we only pay for the insurance.
“Do we need them?” Salmon asked. Van Alstyne Fire Chief Ryan Dockery replied, “They are disaster vehicles, if there is an ice storm and a resident needs to be transported to the hospital, we can use them,”
“The question isn’t if we’ll need them, it’s when,” said Barnes.
Dockery presented the Fire Department budget, and said the biggest item on the Fire Department’s wish list is a new ambulance. “The current model we own is a 2006 model with over 300,000 miles on it,” Dockery said. “In 2017, the department paid out over $5,000 in repairs on the vehicle.”
The Fire Department has contracts with Wilson N. Jones and a Dallas hospital to assist with transfers, but a dependable ambulance is needed to fulfill the contract. “Anytime we take the ambulance on a transfer to Dallas or Sherman, it messes up,” Dockery said.
Dockery fears losing the contracts because of not having a dependable ambulance.
“Don’t we have two ambulance,” Salmon asked. “Yes ma’am, the second one is our backup,” Dockery replied.
Dockery said the department also needs a Paramedic for the transfers. “I also have to turn down transfers due to being short a paramedic.”
Mayor Larry Cooper asked if the transfer ambulance needed to be equipped like a regular ambulance. Dockery said yes, because it will be used as a backup vehicle.
Crowell said she understood his request, but needed to see it on the report. “Show us the justification on why you need the money,” Crowell said. “Show us that you need the money to make money.”
“We missed out on 60 emergency calls in 2017,” Dockery said. “That is approximately $20,000 lost.”
Crowell also suggested the reports showing what services that are offered by the fire department. Then, Crowell said the current format of the budget reports is confusing. “The budget reviews need to be in a better format, they need to be easier to understand.”
Dockery said the recruitment for new firefighters is going as well as the police department. “It is hard to get qualified applicants because the workload per person is overwhelming.”
Dockery said there is another cost he would like to see added. “We need to retire the air bottles on one of our fire engines,” Dockery said. “Each bottle is $1,500. I was hoping to put the $20,000 on the loan for the ambulance.”
The Department of Public Works presented their budget. Finding more money is crucial, Director Steve White said. “We are already at 30-percent of our water line maintenance budget. It costs approximately $1000 per leak to fix.”
White said he asked for $140,000 in the well budget because Well number four needs repairs and number three is offline.
White then discussed animal control. “Van Alstyne does not have an animal shelter, each animal needs to be brought to Sherman,” he said. “It costs $70 per animal to transport them.”
Van Alstyne has no humane place to hold the animals if they are taken in after hours. With the increase in population in the neighborhoods, also increases the animal population. White said, “We’re getting to the point where we need a full-time animal control officer.”
The Public Works Department is also in need of a new vehicle, White said. “Our department currently has a 2007 truck with over 200,000 miles on it. We have already paid out over $7,000 in repairs.”