ESD, Joshua back at odds on contract
Six years of contentious contract negotiations between Joshua officials and the Emergency Services District has come to an impasse.
At issue are seven words Joshua wanted added to an indemnification clause or removed altogether, which the ESD and its legal counsel did not.
ESD commissioners refused last Thursday to accept a service contract with Joshua including that language, and Joshua's City Council has refused to sign a service contract without it.
"This has been going on for more than a year," Joshua City Manager Joshua Jones said. "It has always been a point of contention. We were advised not to sign this contract without [the language]."
The phrase Joshua wanted added to the indemnification was "To the fullest extent permitted by law…," based on their legal perspective a hold-harmless agreement is unconstitutional, and would have indemnified the ESD from fault in litigation and could potentially place that fault on Joshua, even if it had played no role.
"We need this changed based on the legal advice of our attorney," Jones said. "They [ESD commissioners] are opposed to it on the advice of their attorney."
The existing indemnity clause is appropriate, ESD Executive Director Burney Baskett said, and he finds the disagreement between the parties to be unfortunate.
"The ESD's service is better when Joshua participates," he said. "We'd love to have them on board."
The two parties may now ask legal counsel to meet to negotiate the addition of the phrase Joshua wants, but that could itself be an impasse considering each party's legal counsel has given opposite advice.
A special called ESD board of directors meeting concluded last Thursday and escalated when Joshua Mayor Joe Hollarn, the city manager and City Councilman Jerry Moore entered the board room, with their special called City Council meeting in recess.
Hollarn expressed his disappointment that three requested changes to the contract weren't approved by ESD commissioners, although both parties told the Burleson Star the hangup comes down to the wording Joshua wants in the indemnification.
It all could have been worked out with a joint meeting of City Council and the ESD commissioners, Hollarn said, a meeting he has requested but claims not to have received.
Old wounds between Joshua officials and the ESD were reopened last week, Joshua officials say, when ESD commissioner Darren Yancy communicated concerning their contract. Jones and Moore confronted Yancy after the meeting, accusing him of "running" as they followed Yancy to the parking lot, and later at Joshua's City Council meeting Yancy's stance toward Joshua was described as "you'll get nothing and like it."
Yancy had an item placed on the ESD's special meeting agenda to discuss Joshua's "authority to perform emergency services."
That's an overstep, Jones said, into the sovereignty held by a municipality. Joshua could operate a fire department with or without the ESD, he said.
Contentious relations began to develop in 2010 and festered with a voicemail that was left at that time by Yancy's predecessor for Fire Chief Wayne Baker.
"There's a lot of historical animosity between Joshua and the ESD," Jones said. "It's not right how it is operating."
There was a time when another county commissioner attempted to mediate differences between Joshua and the ESD.
"We get along great with our neighboring cities and communities," Jones said. "When it comes to the ESD, we feel there's not a partnership."
Joshua's emergency service contract with the ESD was set to expire at midnight last Friday. It won't mean fire district areas outside the Joshua city limits will be uncovered by emergency response, ESD President R.C. McFall said.
"We want to do what is right by the people. We're going to take care of it," he said. "We are going to dispatch Joshua's calls. We're going to have 24-hour coverage of areas outside the Joshua city limits. We will do mutual aid."
At Joshua's City Council meeting, it was theorized that response won't be at the same service level.
"The residents outside the Joshua city limits will get response, and a fairly rapid response," Baskett said.
The ESD had a contract to review Friday with three requested additions – indemnity, signing authority and grant process. When ESD commissioners failed to act on the contract, it led Joshua to refuse to act.
"We had originally sent seven requested changes to the contract," Jones said. "We know the ESD has a legal right to what they are doing and state law is completely in their favor, but the ESD cannot provide service without the contracted departments."
The future could be a blast from the past, a time when Joshua negotiated down to service just inside the city limits.
"We need a change based on our attorney's legal advice," Jones said. "They [ESD commissioners] can't accept it on their attorney's legal advice."
Upon expiration of the existing contract, Joshua's fire department is without automatic aid agreements, ESD Executive Director Burney Baskett said, but can request mutual aid on any emergency calls.
"We'll continue to do whatever they request," Baskett said. "We're placing a 24-hour crew in Station 83 [Chisholm Trail] to cover areas they had been covering."
In an pen letter to residents, Baskett pointed out Station 83 was constructed for $1 million to address coverage the last time Joshua withdrew to just its city limits.
The Joshua Fire Department will not cease existence, although that was a claim made twice at the ESD by Joshua officials.
"We've made an effort to expand our operations," Jones said. "It needs to be recognized as an option. We aren't saying we'll close the fire department. It is a disservice if we don't recognize that as an option."
Joshua officials have routinely complained the 6-cent sales tax collected is essentially Joshua residents paying twice for service, because they claim contracted payment back from the ESD does not fund the remaining service district area outside the city limits.
"We're paying for ESD service through that tax and as part of the city budget, as well," Jones said.
But, the ESD's funding formula considers the entirety of the district, Baskett said.
"We use four factors in the equation: the entire service area, 911 addresses in the service area, taxable value of the service area and the number of calls in the service area," he said. "We don't look at the city limits in the service area."
Joshua was offered contracted funding of $141,000, payable in four quarterly installments of $35,250. Incentives are available for performance. That offer may now be off the table.
"Because we are making adjustments to cover their [former] territory, it is going to cost money," Baskett said. "That will have to come out of the $141,000 set aside for their response."
In his open letter to residents, Baskett claimed Joshua is getting a fair deal from the ESD. While city residents pay $163,930 in taxes to the ESD, they receive $263,000 in payments, service and training, Baskett wrote in his open letter.