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Village may lose fire service

October 8, 2018

Bunker Hill Village’s status with the Village Fire Department is in question following its city council’s rejection of funds for improvements to the fire station.

The council voted Sept. 28 to approve the department’s operating budget but declined to approve its $665,000 share of $3.5 million proposed for renovations and the reconstruction of the firehouse. The votes came just ahead of the Sept. 30 deadline for each of the six Memorial Villages to approve the department’s 2019 budget or effectively leave the department.

For several months, Bunker Hill has been considering options to improve emergency response times to its community, including pushing to consolidate dispatches, adding a second station and exiting the fire department to start its own service.

A letter obtained by the Houston Chronicle sent from the Village Fire Commission’s attorney to Bunker Hill’s mayor and council gave the city an Oct. 15 deadline to let the commission know whether it plans to leave the department by Dec. 31, 2018 or Dec. 31, 2019.

“No Village has ever attempted a partial approval of the Budget and there has always been a single, unified Budget. Article 6.02 of the Interlocal states that ‘Failure of any such city to approve such budget by such date shall constitute notice of termination of this agreement by such city,’” the letter read.

Bunker Hill Village Mayor Jay Williams responded to a concerned resident in a letter emailed to the Chronicle saying that the city is working hard to produce better response times and that it would like to do so by continuing its relationship with VFD. Williams cited a study commissioned by VFD that recommended putting an additional fire station in Bunker Hill and said it would not add additional costs to the other five Villages.

Williams said the decision to vote down the reconstruction funds was largely due to a lack of information.

“The Council supports the need for improved facilities for the VFD, however the request did not include an architectural plan, a schedule, or a budget.” He said. “Even more concerning is it did not include any plans on how or where the VFD was going to temporarily operate during the renovation or reconstruction…In other words, the VFD wants us to give them the money now and they will come back to us in the future and tell us how they are going to spend it. We cannot in good conscience approve city funds for an unknown project.”

Bunker Hill has been a part of the Village Fire Department since its founding in 1947. VFD is one of .01 percent of departments in the United States with a ISO Class 1 ranking, according to Village Fire Chief David Foster.

Hedwig Village Mayor Brian Muecke said Bunker Hill’s decision concerned him for his neighbors there.

“I am disappointed for my friends that live in Bunker Hill that their elected leadership has taken deliberate action to terminate their membership in the Village Fire Department,” he said. “I wish them well in their journey down this uncharted course.”

Muecke said he and his community would continue to stand behind the department and its outstanding performance.

“I speak for every member of Hedwig Village leadership when I voice our city’s full-throated political, financial and operational support for the Village Fire Department and its employees, who provide outstanding service to us and our other partner Villages,” Muecke said.

Williams said he and the Bunker Hill council would continue to try to resolve the issue and provide better services to its residents.

“We are continuing our efforts to work with the Village Fire Department to meet our goals and improve services in our City,” he said. “However, any attempt by neighboring cities or the fire commission to remove us will be met with fierce opposition by our council.”

tracy.maness@hcnonline.com

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