Liberty Fire Department awarded $271K SAFER grant to train, recruit volunteers

Photo of Liberty fire engine courtesy of Jennifer Cannaday

At Tuesday night’s Liberty City Council meeting, City Manager Tom Warner shared the news that the City has been approved for a $271,168 SAFER grant through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response) grant will provide funding directly to Liberty Fire Department to assist in increasing the number of firefighters.

Warner said this specific grant will be used for the volunteer side of the department and will fund the retention of six volunteer firefighters, and the purchase of bunker gear, equipment and training.

LFD Chief Brian Hurst told Bluebonnet News after the meeting that the grant will pay for volunteers to attend a fire academy or an EMT academy, and will fund recruitment brochures, tables and chairs and a $25,000 LED sign that will be installed in front of Station 1 on Lakeland Ave. The sign will allow the department to post recruitment information and notices.

No local matching funds are required for this SAFER grant.

According to Hurst, Liberty Fire Department also is eagerly awaiting a response on its application for a $2.7 million three-year SAFER grant to provide funding for nine new personnel. The new personnel will be needed to man the new fire station that the City is building on the 100 block of Bowie Street. Most of the costs of building the new station will come from a $5 million grant from the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs. The City of Liberty has set aside another $1 million to go toward the project.

Station 1, which was built in 2006, also is getting $1.7 million in repairs, Hurst said.

“The station is getting a new sprinkler system, new roof, two additional bathrooms, new floors, an area for 10 bunk beds, larger locker area and more storage areas,” Hurst said.

2022 street rehab project wrapping up

At Tuesday night’s meeting, City Manager Tom Warner also provided Council with an update on a $2.312 million, 30-street repaving project that kicked off in April 2022. Repaving of all but two of the streets is now complete with the only work remaining on Tennessee and N. Travis streets. Work on those two streets is set to begin on April 30, 2023.

All totaled, the repaving project addressed issues on 5.5 miles of city streets throughout the city, not one just section. As this street project wraps up, the City already has begun work on its 2023 street rehabilitation project. Both street rehabilitation projects are funded through the City’s Cambridge Fund, which comes from profits derived from the Sam Rayburn Municipal Power Agency (SRMPA).

The SRMPA provides wholesale electrical services to its three member cities – Jasper, Livingston and Liberty.

Warner also shared news about the City’s elevated storage tank rehabilitation project that will involve sandblasting and recoating of the existing 200,000, 300,000 and 65,000-gallon elevated storage tanks on Monta, Palmer and San Jacinto streets, respectively. The work will also involve the installation of new level indicators, electrical wiring, ladder repairs and steel repairs. According to engineer estimates, this project should cost around $1.5 million.

Golf course opening on May 5

Assistant City Manager Chris Jarmon discussed the upcoming grand opening of the municipal golf course. The grand opening date is set for Friday, May 5. Jarmon said the plan is to have a formal grand opening in the morning and then allow people in attendance to drive around in golf carts to see the $2.88 million in improvements for themselves. These improvements are the addition of bunkers, which will make the course more challenging, bigger greens, new sod, more tees, electric work at the pro shop, new electrical transformer, new bathroom facility and concrete cart paths.

At Tuesday night’s meeting, Council was asked to approve another expenditure for the golf course from the Cambridge Fund. Warner explained that approximately $200,000 is needed for flag sticks, signage, hole cups and other miscellaneous items. Though some on Council seemed reluctant to approve another golf course-related expenditure, they were assured this should be the last major expenditure. They approved it unanimously with that assurance.

Jarmon explained that the City issued invitations for a soft opening to youth groups and others who contract for use of the golf course.

“We didn’t want to get overwhelmed, so we are using this time to find any kinks that need to be worked on,” he said.

Properties condemned

In other business, Council held a public hearing for the condemnation of three unsafe structures in the City. These are located at 606 Santa Anna, 618 San Jacinto Street and 1801 Reese. The owners of the Santa Anna property, the children of the late owner, asked the City to demolish the structure as they are struggling to keep vagrants from living inside the home. The owners of the Reese Street property have not responded to the City’s attempts to contact them about the property. The real estate agent handling the sale of the San Jacinto Street property asked Council to give her a little more time to finish cleaning up the property to make it more appealing to a buyer.

Council agreed to the demolition of the Santa Anna and Reese properties and agreed to provide a 90-day extension for the San Jacinto Street property.

New rules for signs and fences discussed

Council also held a work session at the end of the meeting to consider proposed changes to the City’s sign ordinance. The intent of these changes is to make enforcement easier and to make the ordinance friendlier for local businesses. They also discussed adding improper fence maintenance as a code enforcement violation. No actions were taken on either of these items, though council members expressed support for the fence maintenance ordinance.

“I am 100 percent behind the fence ordinance and can provide some addresses for you,” said Councilwoman Diane Driggers.

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