San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

January 21st, 2010
New fire station could break furniture budget

012110stephensSan Marcos Fire Department Chief Les Stephens talks with the San Marcos City Council about the cost of furnishing a new fire station. Photo by Andy Sevilla.

Associate Editor

On the heels of a downward sales tax intake for the seventh straight month, the San Marcos City Council approved more than $50,000 in expenditures to furnish the new San Marcos Fire Department (SMFD) station, and SMFD Chief Les Stephens said more money will be needed for more furniture.

At their Tuesday night meeting, councilmembers unanimously approved $58,579.97 to furnish offices for the SMFD chief, assistant chief, training chief, and department secretary’s offices. The expenditure also includes furniture for the conference room, training room, kitchen, and miscellaneous seating areas at the station, for which ground was broken just more than a year ago at 100 Carlson Circle.

The council initially allocated $100,000 for fixtures, furniture, and equipment (FF&E) for the $5 million fire station. As of the end of Tuesday’s council meeting, only $58,579.97 has been expended. But Stephens told councilmembers that he forecasts exceeding the budgeted $100,000 when all the furnishings have been purchased, and that the fire department will have to dip into contingency funds.

Councilmember Ryan Thomason, in only the second meeting on the council, removed the matter from the consent agenda to bring a discussion into open session. If the item hadn’t been pulled, it would have been decided, along with the other consent items, in a single motion without discussion.

Thomason voiced concern over the amount certain products cost, and suggested finding those same products at lower price. Thomason specifically pointed to the three $600 armchairs among the new purchases.

“I want (the new fire station) to be nice, don’t get me wrong,” Thomason said. “I want good quality, but this seems like a lot of money.”

Said councilmember John Thomaides, “When government is buying (products), we must have sucker written on our forehead, because everything is so much more expensive.”

Included in the purchase are three $600.16 armchairs, seven $764.39 recliners, three $647.48 black table trucks with blue bumpers, one $4,159.58 rectangular conference room table, four $145.92 stools, two $277.68 two-drawer file cabinets, three $694 personal wardrobe/storage cabinets, and several Park Avenue Series products.

Thomason asked if any research for products had been done locally, and if comparable products could have been found at a San Marcos dealer such as North Carolina Furniture Direct or Office Depot for lower prices.

Stephens said he had personally visited furniture showrooms in San Antonio and Austin, but none in San Marcos. Stephens added, though, that he did not initiate the process and is unaware of the research completed under interim Fire Chief Len Nored. Stephens, who was sworn in as fire chief last August, went on to say that some of the pricier products could have been found at more cost-effective prices, but added that he doesn’t “believe that Office Depot or anyone like that is going to have something of comparable value.”

Stephens said that original bid for the products approved this week started at $80,000, and that Nored was able to get it down to the $58,579.97 figure. Stephens added that Nored has “been very diligent.”

Thomason again stressed the necessity of researching local businesses and even suggested sending an itemized list of the products to local vendors to develop a price comparison with the Austin-based Furniture For Business store from which the SMFD made the new purchase.

Though councilmembers voted unanimously to approve the expenditure, they also advised Stephens to research local businesses for future purchases before turning to Austin and San Antonio.

“If we’re going to spend tax payer money, we need to try and spend it here,” Narvaiz said.

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37 thoughts on “New fire station could break furniture budget

  1. What is the matter with these damn fools? Spend that kind of money for office furniture? Then slap every local business in the face by not even letting them price it out? Give me a break. Let’s support Austin businesses rather than our own. Way to go fire department and city council. This is absolutely rediculous, let alone the price of this stuff. WHEN IS THE ABSURED SPENDING GOING TO STOP????

  2. It’s called Goodwill or bring your own damn furniture. This is exactly where our money is going. Citizens can be thrifty but apparently these bourgeoisie firefighters can’t live without their silk linens and thousand dollar furniture. Remember this people, when you’re paying your taxes and being forced into thrift because of city spending like this. Unbelievable.

  3. So everyone wants to say they support fiscal responsibility and talk about how we need to “buy local”, but when it comes to a vote no one wants to vote down wasteful spending and take a strong stand for San Marcos businesses.

    Why does a fire station need seven recliners?

  4. About 4 years ago I renovated a building on San Antonio street for use as an office/warehouse for my business (since sold). We put in a conference room. We wanted a nice table that could hold at least 10 people. Below is the exact thing we purchased. No it didn’t have a mahogany top. We hesitated to spend almost $1,000 with freight but in the end we made the purchase. We were really proud of the way it looked. We purchased 10 black desk chairs from office Dept. which were on sale for $39.95. We loaned the room out a number of times to community groups who needed to have a meeting or conduct a class. Everyone always thought our conference room and table were pretty nice. The same item we purchased is still for sale for $842. They have a special and shipping is free. I guess the big difference is that I had to pay for it myself. If the taxpayers were buying, maybe I would have got one of those $4 thousand dollar tables. Was it cheap. No. We had to use a forklift to get it off the truck. Once we put the legs on, it took six people to turn it over. It proved to be very durable.
    Unfortunately, I am unable to post a picture of the table on Newstreamz but below are the specs.

    12ft Boat Shape Conference Table with Slab Base by Abco

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    Item Number: 101-GDA191
    Abco Boat Shaped Conference Table features a durable 1-1/4″ high pressure laminate top with a single groove t-mold edge.

    Also features self edge slab bases, black stretcher stabilizer system and leveling glides.

    Simply attach top to base.
    Product Features:
    Free Lifetime Warranty
    1-1/4″ high pressure laminate top
    Single groove t-mold edge
    Self edge slab bases
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    Simply attach top to base

    Product Details
    Brand: Abco
    Mfg #: SBSS12
    Weight: 395 lbs.
    Compare At: $1482

  5. let’s not forget the netflix fund or the esspreso machine cause when your reclining there’s nothing better:)

  6. “Councilmember Ryan Thomason, in only the second meeting on the council, removed the matter from the consent agenda to bring a discussion into open session. If the item hadn’t been pulled, it would have been decided, along with the other consent items, in a single motion without discussion.”

    By the way, thank you Ryan. That was a positive move on behalf of the public trust.

    “If we’re going to spend tax payer money, we need to try and spend it here,” Narvaiz said.

    As for this; well, what else is new?

  7. I agree about the fish or ferret thing. I am no expert but it seemed they could have been told where to find the animals and made more of an effort. It just makes me sad. It makes me very sad that no one heard alarms going off at Amkon. No sirens outside? N signal to the fire dept. I believe this should be required if there are going to be living things in a building. I realize that wasn’t the case so again it was very sad…
    I know office furniture is pricey even for a chair but yes you can find deals at office dept. $800? Recliners, I am not mad at them about that either because it is where they live part of the time. The big furniture store we have here should have deals on them but not sure.

  8. Believe it or not, there’s a good reason to have recliners in a fire station.

    Given firefighter’s schedules and work shifts, actually getting into a bed can be a luxury. Having something, like a recliner, gives firefighters a chance to get some sleep in the middle of a 24 hours shift, but still be in a position to get up fairly quickly and be close to their engine and gear. Not every firehouse has an attached dorm. Building one would cost even more money. There are actually websites that market recliners to fire departments specifically. Not everything that seems like a luxury actually is.

    However, I do agree about buying local. That should just be a no-brainer.

  9. Sean,

    I understand needing recliners but come on, $800 recliners? It is pretty bad when governement empolyees have better stuff than the taxpayers that pay the bill. I am SURE there are a number of San Marcos TAXPAYERS who would LOVE to have an $800 recliner.

  10. Oh yeah, nice job, Mr. Thomason. At least you had the guts to pull it from the consent agenda and cause a discussion.

  11. Mr. Thomason,

    Thank you for not being a spineless corpse with a title. It is a shame that other councilman seem to not have a concern or the will to speak up on a matter that of this nature. I can’t believe someone who is a fire chief, would even think of going outside of San Marcos to purchase office furniture with the resources we have here. We should question his judgement to. We need to be more concious with taxpayers money and spend it locally if at all possible. Mr. Thomason I hope you continue to do things as you have started out, the taxpayers need you. Hopefully you can invigorate the other council to do whats right for the town and the people of the town.

  12. So tell me… When a City department needs 2000 printed envelopes, where should we buy? Local printer is .35 ea, out of town .05 ea. (free shipping). At 2000 envelopes that seems like a lot of taxpayer money wasted to buy locally.

  13. As a freight pilot, and having personally experienced the monotony of being on standby for hours and days upon end, I certainly can appreciate the need for the recliners.

    The UPS hub in Louisville, KY had a bunkroom with single beds, as well as an additional room with recliners and a big screen television, to help while away the long hours on standby, or just for the several hours in the middle of each night, while that night’s freight was going through the “sort”.

    Working on a Master’s degree was the option for some, but there were times when you just need your crew rest.

    The same held true in the Air Force, when SAC pilots had to spend hours, days, weeks, months, and years on alert during the Cold War.

    That is the nature of a profession that involves waiting for something to happen, in order to perform one’s job purpose.

    But,… would have been more community friendly,… attempt to make these purchases locally, and look for the best all around value,… my opinion

  14. I am sure there are few San Marcos taxpayers would step up to make the sacrifices that these Fire Fighters and their families make everyday. Shame on those that caste stones from the comfort of their homes. You can offer solutions with out being so damn mean.

  15. Take a chill pill, Armydad. No one is knocking the fire department that I see. Just because someone does not think that it is prudent to spend $800 on recliners or $4,000 on conference tables, especially with out of town businesses, does not make them against the fire department. This is more of a gripe with the fire department leadership and city council. If this expensive furniture is so important to the firefighters, why aren’t we throwing out all the furniture in the other fire stations and getting new stuff for them?

  16. I will not chill. Scott Davis wrote “It is pretty bad when governement empolyees have better stuff than the taxpayers..” It sounds to me that you place less value on these brave women and men than the everyday tax payer. Remember than many of the folks that have sworn to protect us pay property taxes as well. I hope you are comfy.

  17. Touchy, touchy, aren’t we, Armydad?? I never said I did not want the firefighters comfortable. I did not say I did not want them to have recliners. I never said I don’t value what they do. I did, however, say that an $800 recliner is a little out there. What will an $800 recliner do that a $500 recliner won’t do?? What about the $4,000 conference table? This sounds a little like the $100 toilet seat to me, that is all that I am saying.

  18. “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a Communist.”

    Hélder Câmara

  19. The real question and focus should be on why all this furniture is being bought outside San Marcos and not from local businesses (of which we have several who carry the items listed!). Tax dollars should always be spent locally not in Austin or San Antonio, just common sense. We should be able, and the Council should have asked for, a list of the bids sought to be made public—let’s see if there was ever an real attempt (or opportunity) for local businesses to participate. I know the recliners could have been bought here for the same or less, thus keeping local citizens employed and local businesses going.

  20. I see today in the SMDR a bid proposal for police vehicles. There is a State contract the city can and has used for years to purchase these vehicles. Fixed prices and no local vendor (unfortunately) has ever been able to touch the State contract price. But….the city manager insists to go out to bid on these vehicles even after being told what the final answer will be. Waste of city employee’s time, energy, money, etc. plus it adds months to the purchase process. Don’t kill the Fire Dept on this one…look at the top.

  21. Please refer to item 15 above as no one commented. As a departmental buyer i am interested in what you think. Envelopes $700 local or $100 out of town. Take this x the number of departments x the number of preprinted supplies a department needs. Thoughts anyone?

  22. We need our government employees to buy smart and exemplify fiscal responsibility. 62% of our local children have some form of food insecurity (another way of looking at the fact that 62% of SMCISD students qualify for free or reduced price food at school). Many families live paycheck to paycheck, and sometimes they don’t have work, so they scramble. A number of families right here in Hays County have to choose between paying for medicine or food. In the midst of the general economic upheaval, and with so many in our community in need right now, today, this week, it is from this perspective and consideration that we question the fiscal responsibility when we hear reports of a $4,000 conference table (on top of very generous wage increases, along with now paying City Council members, and continuing to dole out huge monetary concessions and incentives to retail developers). Buyers need to purchase wisely and respect the taxpayers.

  23. One of the big reasons it is best that we buy local is to keep our sales tax revenue in town. Purchases made by a government entity like the fire department are tax exempt. This whole argument would have made a lot more sense a few years ago when San Marcos actually had a locally owned furniture store. Do you really think North Carolina Furniture is locally owned? And while we are talking abotut that store, has anyone compaining here actually gone out there to see if you could buy a good recliner for less than $800.

  24. I am pretty positive that North Carolina Furniture Outlet is locally owned. So……. is it wise as a city employee from a taxpayer standpoint to purchase envelopes locally for .35 cents each or buy them a few miles down the road for .05 cents each. We do not pay sales tax. This will be my last post in an attempt to get a yes or no answer.

    Thank you for your time.

  25. Larry and TJ, let’s look at some basic facts…. the sales tax, which it’s true the city would not pay, is only pennies on the dollar anyway. And while NC Furntiture is not locally owned (duh), there EMPLOYEES do live here, pay taxes here and SPEND THEIR PAYROLL HERE. That’s where the “savings” comes in to the city and taxpayers. See, you have to think beyond what the politicans say or tell you. THINK!! Ask the Chamber of Commerce about how many times those PAYROLL dollars turn over in our community, the homes those people can afford because they have local jobs, the sales tax they pay for themselves and their families when they spend that payroll locally. This is why it is stupid to buy stuff for the same or more price in other cities rather than here!!!

  26. TJ- I think in theory, government shopping for cheapest item would be an easy sell to taxpayer, HOWEVER, I don’t think gov’t offices have ever refunded money back to taxpayers or asked taxpayers for less money next time around because they are being more frugal in their spending. If you buy the cheaper envelopes ,where will the saved money go?

  27. TJ- Forgot to answer your question though. Spend the $700 locally. The money has already been budgeted and collected so go ahead and spend it locally.

  28. TJ-buiy the stuff where you can get it for the best price. If local vendors can compete, buy here. If not, go elsewhere. Yes the money is “budgeted”, but if you save some, you might be able to buy some other things you need. If all depts did this, maybe all city employees’ salaries could be brought up to100% of market as was promised last year. Unfortunately, I think the Council may have been mislead over the past year about the market survey and who got what and when.

  29. Just FYI…I thought Earl Studdard was the owner of North Carolina Factory Direct so I searched Google and found that he is indeed, Since Earl lives in the San Marcos area, that would mean that NCFD is indeed a local business like I thought.

  30. TJ,

    There’s a difference between favoring local business and buying local at any cost. While I would be surprised to find such a price difference in printed envelopes, I don’t think anyone here is suggesting that we simply ignore businesses in Austin, San Antonio etc…My take from the article is that noone even bothered checking out San Marcos businesses. THAT is the problem (along with the high price, of course).

  31. Griffin, valid points and goes to the issue that we have no evidence that local businesses were too high OR even given the chance to offer these products, and from my experience the talk on printed envelope prices is a myth (or lack of real effort by those seeking prices). The public, whose money is being spent DESERVES to know what prices were furnsihed by whom and the Council should insist on making that public if they want to be good stewards of our money. It appears from the article that no one at the fire department or city can answer if local businesses were even contacted.

  32. During my mayoral campaign in 2008, I made the promise to voters that if elected,….. I would post all city expenditures on the City of San Marcos website as does the Texas Legislature (on their site),… order to make a decisive move for the City of San Marcos for the benefit of the voters and taxpayers of our community, toward total fiscal and legislative transparency in our municipal government.

    I still believe and maintain that this is not only a good idea, but a necessary measure toward restoring the trust in our government,….beginning on the local level.

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