Do you want the good news or the bad news? The Sherman City Council got both Wednesday afternoon during a presentation by Fire Chief J.J. Jones. The presentation was the second in a series of specially called meetings to give councilors an in-depth look at the city’s infrastructure needs before they tackle the Sherman budget this summer.

Do you want the good news or the bad news? The Sherman City Council got both Wednesday afternoon during a presentation by Fire Chief J.J. Jones. The presentation was the second in a series of specially called meetings to give councilors an in-depth look at the city’s infrastructure needs before they tackle the Sherman budget this summer.


"I think part of what we’re doing during our budget process this year is we’re not deferring the decision making out into the future anymore," said Sherman Mayor Cary Wacker. "This is the year in which we need to look at these issues and make some ‘Step 1’ decisions so that we’re positioned for the future."


The good news was exceptional — quantifiably so, in fact. Of the 3,295 fire departments in Texas, Sherman ranks among the top 40 according to an insurance industry rating. That 98th percentile placing is based on the city’s emergency communications, adequate water supply, and well-spaced fire department locations, said Jones.


Sherman’s Public Protection Classification rating was secured three years ago, however, and a lot has changed since then — that’s where the bad news comes in. Jones explained to the Council that growth around the city’s Town Center development in the past few years has left a significant hole in his Department’s coverage area. Town Center is located almost exactly in between Sherman stations three and five, but it’s too far from either location to be reached inside the six-minute window for which emergency officials aim.


"Almost 20 percent of our calls are in that small area, north of (U.S. Highway) 82, really between Loy Lake and Travis," said Jones. "Sherman Commons, Home Depot, Lowe’s, two schools, eight assisted-living and health-care facilities, 24 restaurants in that little area. So at any one time, there could be 10,000 people in that area. … This is all outside of our six-minute response time."


It’s a problem the city can only ignore for so long, said City Manager George Olson.


"We really need to start the planning process and move forward, in our opinion," said Olson. "Obviously the gap in service and the growth is not going to get any smaller. … Are we at a point where we’ll completely fail if we don’t do something? I mean, no, we’re going to do the best we can, and we do the best we can with what we have today. But as Sherman develops and grows and the call volume continues to increase, … it’s going to have an impact on how we deliver services. So we’re trying to keep moving forward to get where we need to be."


The fix for the problem won’t come cheaply – a new station in the area could cost $3 million to $4 million, said the city manager. But a sixth fire station in the city is inevitable, he explained, the Council just needs to decide the when. Jones said the city has scouted sites around Town Center but hasn’t made any determinations.


On the south side of town, Sherman leaders face a different sort of conundrum. The aging Blalock Park Station on FM 1417 at the U.S. Highway 75 crossing is well located, said Jones, but it occupies a piece of land that would have much more value to the city if it were developed commercially. The fire chief said moving the station farther west would have the added benefit of improving response times on that side of town, helping to close another gap in emergency services coverage.


"It’s on a pretty popular corner. We hope as development continues in that area that this property … will become valuable to somebody," said Jones. "Fire Station 4 is fine pretty much like it is — it’s aged so it’s going to need a little tender love and care, but the location itself is not bad. However, if somebody comes forward and has interest in that property, the site that Fire Station 4 sits on is probably not the best use for that corner."


The fire department has already selected a five-acre tract of land on which it could relocate the station, and has completed design work on the new facility. But lacking funds and with a superseding need for an additional station on the north side of town, the city is stuck until a buyer surfaces for the Blalock building and its surrounding acreage. The Department would like to move operations and administration to the new location as well, said Jones.


The fire chief suggested the Council’s priorities for the coming year should be selecting a site for the new northside station and providing capital for improvements at Station 5 — the Department’s busiest station, located in northeast Sherman. Whether Jones and city firefighters will be facing good news or bad news when it comes to finding the money to build a new station at Town Center, that question will have to wait for the budget battle in June.