Former Briggs VFD property sparks dispute

The Briggs Community Center, Inc. Board of Directors were recently made aware of a lawsuit against them by the Burnet County Emergency Services District 8 concerning property ownership after the dissolution of the Briggs VFD. BCCI President Crystal Kinsey and her Board are disputing the claims, stating the property was legally transferred to BCCI, and share their side of the story.

 

 

 

 

By Savanna Gregg

Staff Writer

Burnet Bulletin

After the dissolution of the Briggs Volunteer Fire Department by the Burnet County Emergency Services District 8 in March, the beginnings of a new Briggs fire station this summer seemed to be the end of the story.

According to Briggs Community Center Inc. (BCCI) President Crystal Kinsey, though, more issues have come to the surface and are affecting the Community Center, and Briggs as a whole.

Upon receiving the minutes for the July 22 ESD 8 Board meeting, Kinsey learned that the ESD 8 would be seeking legal action against the community center as disputes about ownership of the property once occupied by the Briggs VFD have arisen.

In a letter dated Aug. 16, 2019, the ESD 8's attorney Kelli Carlton sent a letter to the BCCI Board of Directors verifying this information, stating the ESD believes the property was purchased with District funds, giving them the right to take back possession of the land and assets.

“The District (ESD 8) is aware that, subsequent to the termination of the Agreement (with the Briggs VFD), and instead of transferring assets to the District, the Department wrongfully transferred the land and fire station, another parcel of land, and a rainwater collection system to the Briggs Community Center,” the letter stated. 

The letter continues to state that the Briggs Community Center Board of Directors is asked to return the property to the ESD 8 by Friday, Aug. 30, lest a suit be filed against them.

“The District will consider the Center's failure to transfer and return the assets a theft of government property as well as a conversion of property, a trespass, and an unjust enrichment of the Center at the District's and its taxpayers' expense,” the letter continued. “The District does not consent to the center's nor does the District consent to any individual member of the center's Board's continuing possession or use of any district assets, real or personal.”

Burnet County Precinct 2 Commissioner Damon Beierle offered a comment about the pending lawsuit.

“ESD 8 disputes the property transfer because it believes it has a claim to the property,” Beierle said. “I cannot predict the outcome but hope the issue can be resolved quickly. 

“My concern is always going to be focused on the needs of the citizens and I desire a resolution that best serves them,” Beirele added. “The legal process must be respected; and just like all of the concerned citizens, I await for the decision of the Court.”

Kinsey disputes the statements made in that letter, stating that the transfer of the land and property occupied by the Briggs VFD to the community center was legally executed, and much of the property was owned by the Briggs VFD, before the ESD was formed in 2010.

“The Briggs VFD had the title to all real property including the cinder block building, the metal barn, the antique building, and the land, and gifted it back to the community center before the ESD started a lawsuit against them,” Kinsey said. “The cinder block building has been owned by the Briggs Community Center since the 1970s, the metal barn was bought in 2007 prior to the ESD being started, and the antique store was donated to the Briggs VFD by a local family.”

Kinsey also pointed out that the land which was purchased from the community center for $10,000, was given back to the community center along with the buildings.

“They returned it to the community of Briggs,” Kinsey said. “They wanted it to stay with us rather than go to the ESD, or wherever else.”

Another asset given to the community center after the BVFD closed were the rainwater tanks located on the property. Partly funded by the ESD 8 along with grants from the Lower Colorado River Authority, and Pedernales Electric Cooperative, the tanks are insured at approximately $50,000, and open to the community for use. 

“The BVFD reimbursed the ESD for their portion of the funding for the tanks and sent them a certified letter with a check number,” Kinsey said. “That was okay to gift to the community center.”

Kinsey says the BCCI has been communicating in good faith with the Oakalla VFD, whose department has taken over service for the area, and offered them a reasonable price to lease the building and property for their use, after discussing the possibility with Precinct 2 Commissioner Damon Beierle and County Attorney Eddie Arredondo in June. The lease was brought up to the Oakalla VFD after a six-hour mediation concerning the topics such as the lease and the return of ESD 8 assets, which would take place on July 1.

“We wanted to lease with the Oakalla VFD for $750 per month, which we think was a reasonable price,” Kinsey said. “We did the research, and found that for that square footage, in Briggs, $750 a month was a bargain.”

Income from the lease would assist the BCCI in insurance and maintaining the upkeep of the building and grounds, and BCCI was willing to negotiate a deal.

“It was communicated to the Oakalla VFD what we would rent the building for and we said we were willing to discuss it,” Kinsey said. “The fire chief said they would lease it for $10 for ten years, and if not, they were not interested. They did say they would do the upkeep and pay the insurance for the property inside the building."

After the possibility of a lease was declined, Kinsey said the BCCI sent a certified letter to the Oakalla VFD informing them the electricity to the water tanks and metal barn would be turned off.

“On July 1, the Oakalla VFD came in and removed all of the Briggs assets,” Kinsey said. “The building was empty, so we needed to get rid of that bill.”

The letter was signed for at the ESD's July 22 meeting, and Oakalla VFD personnel were informed the electricity was set to turn off by Aug. 31. The minutes of that meeting state, regarding the water tanks, that “taxpayer assets are not available for use, and the tanks and building may not be insured” and Commissioner Roberta Elmore stated that the ESD should “move forward with some type of action to get the tanks returned.” It was later stated that these issues may not be solved at the county level, and that “the process of starting legal action against the Briggs Community Center has already been initiated.”

“We gave them over a month to figure out what they wanted to do about paying for the electricity,” Kinsey said. “We never told them they couldn't use the rainwater collection tanks.”

After a business expressed interest in leasing the buildings from BCCI, the decision to turn the electricity off was reversed, because the interested business offered to pay the electricity for the water tanks and keep them in use for the fire department.

“I sent the fire chief a message on July 24 saying to disregard the certified letter, and that the electricity would stay on, the same day the business said they would pay for it, and we sent out another certified letter informing them the electricity was remaining on,” Kinsey said. “I also sent emails to all ESD commissioners stating we had insurance on the tanks, electricity on, and a couple issues with pipes were being fixed, with no response from them.”

“For some reason, it was still communicated that the electricity was still going to be turned off,” Kinsey added. “We knew nothing about this.” . . .

Read more about the Briggs property dispute in the Wednesday, Aug. 28 issue of the Burnet Bulletin, the newspaper of record for northern Burnet County. Email a note to lew@highlandernews.com or savanna@burnetbulletin.com. To subscribe, call 512-756-6136.

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