During a special meeting of the Liverpool City Council on June 3, representatives of the Brazoria County Emergency Service District No. 3 spoke with councilmen and members of the Liverpool Volunteer Fire Department.
The Internal Revenue Service published the revocation of the Liverpool Volunteer Fire Department’s tax-exempt status March 2. On March 11, the district canceled its contract with the department. Since that time, fire services in Liverpool have been provided by the departments in Alvin and Danbury. Councilman Ric Bogue said fire trucks from Alvin took 25 minutes to arrive during a fire that occurred in Liverpool during the interim.
The district set a deadline of 90 days for the Liverpool Volunteer Fire Department to reacquire its tax-exempt status, which was lost due to tax issues stemming from the activities of former treasurer Kelly Gabel, who is awaiting trial for embezzlement. The 90-day deadline will end June 10, and Emergency Service District No. 3 Director of Administration Brian Owens said the district believed it to be highly unlikely that there will be any determination issued by the IRS before that time, while Fire Chief Joshua Morris said the case worker would be issuing a determination letter Tuesday because the department filed for two-week expedited service starting May 17, which was pushed back by two business days due to an absence of the case manager.
“So my plan is, is that if I cannot get a hold of this guy, I’m going to ask for a supervisor, I’m going to ask maybe a different case worker. I mean, because, I want to meet our deadline. I mean, that deadline was pretty short and for me to get this close, I’m not going to give up now,” Morris said.
Liverpool Volunteer Fire Department Treasurer Jessica Robledo said all paperwork required by the department for reacquiring 501(c)(3) status had been submitted and everyone involved was now in a waiting game with the IRS.
The reacquisition of 501(c)(3) status would not automatically reinstate the Liverpool Volunteer Fire Department as the provider of services in the Liverpool area. A new contract must be negotiated between the department and the emergency service district following the cancellation of the previous one.
Emergency Service District No. 3 Executive Director Dave Ferguson said the district has considered how it would move forward without the Liverpool Volunteer Fire Department if it is unable to regain 501(c)(3) status that would consist of building an entirely new station that would be part of the district. The district’s vice president, Mike Jones, said that although it wishes for the Liverpool Volunteer Fire Department to regain its tax status and return to the former status quo, the district has already been in contact with individuals in the community who would volunteer to staff the new station and are searching for a location.
“We’re trying to locate other property right now to put a station if we have to,” Jones said.
Jones said a new station could retain the identity as being a fire station for Liverpool and that “the city of Liverpool is the winners.”
Ferguson said a new contract with the Liverpool Volunteer Fire Department would likely contain language aiming to prevent the current situation from recurring in Liverpool or elsewhere. Morris questioned why the district did not conduct audits of departments in previous years when contracts included a provision for them.
In response to a question by Liverpool Volunteer Fire Department member Charles Settles, Owens admitted it was likely mistakes were made on both sides of the issue in past years, when the embezzlement took place, but all representatives of the district present said the district always wanted to err on the side of continuing to provide the departments with funds to continue their firefighting operations, despite tax and paperwork issues.
However, the district has recently adopted a more direct and active approach in administering and monitoring the taxpayer funds used to support fire departments that it contracts with.
City councilmen and Mayor Bill Strickland said it is of the utmost importance that both sides work together toward a solution. Leaders on both sides admitted part of the impasse had been personal.
“These tempers need to go and personal feelings set aside,” Strickland said.