By KALEY CONNER

kconner@dailynews.net

Ellis County property owners could recognize a financial savings beginning this summer due to improved fire protection ratings recently received by the Ellis County Fire Department.

Several of the department’s companies were evaluated by the Insurance Services Office in December. Companies in Ellis, Victoria and Hays all saw increased ratings for structures within 1,000 feet of a fire hydrant and within 5 miles from a fire station. The results of the Schoenchen fire company’s evaluation are not yet available, said Darin Myers, Ellis County fire chief and emergency management coordinator, at Monday’s Ellis County Commission meeting.

“It could be a pretty big cost savings throughout the entire Ellis County,” Myers said. “We have over 9,900 residential structures and just about 1,800 commercial properties. That’s a lot of businesses where more than probably 80, 90 percent of those are going to be affected by these ratings in one way or another.”

Victoria Fire Co. 4 and Hays Fire Co. 5 ratings increased from a level 5 to a 4 within 1,000 feet of a fire hydrant, and from a 6 to a 5 within 5 miles from a fire station. Ellis Fire Co. 6 shifted from a level 5 to 4 within 1,000 feet of a station, and from 7 to 6 within 5 miles.

The new ratings will take effect June 1 for Victoria-area residents and July 1 for those near Ellis and Hays. Residents should call their insurance agencies around that time to bring the rate changes to their attention and inquire about possible cost savings, Myers said, noting insurance agencies differ in how they set customer rates.

Several factors are considered in the ISO ratings, including public safety communications and dispatch center equipment. The county in 2017 made major upgrades to its communications equipment, including more reliable backup communications, improved mapping capabilities and the ability to text 911 in emergencies.

An automatic aid agreement entered between the City of Hays and Ellis County in 2017 also likely was a factor in the improved ratings. The county also has agreements with other surrounding fire departments, including Ellis and Victoria for enhanced coverage in those parts of the county.

Available water supply is a third factor included in the evaluations.

Ellis County Commissioner Barbara Wasinger noted the improved ratings bring the fire department into the top 25 percent of all fire departments evaluated nationwide.

“That is astounding, and you should be congratulated with the cooperation with all the different fire departments: Ellis, Victoria, Hays,” Wasinger said. “We are so fortunate and so grateful for our volunteer firefighters and our grateful for the job that you’re doing.”

The City of Hays Fire Department also received improved ISO fire ratings early this year, and those ratings took effect April 1. Hays property owners also could contact their insurance companies regarding possible savings.

To maintain the improved scores — or see further improvement in the future — the county must continue making necessary investments for fire and communications equipment as technology changes, Myers said, noting the paid-per-call volunteer firefighters are one of the county’s most valuable resources.

“The main thing is we can have the nicest equipment in the world, the nicest fire stations in the world, the nicest gear, but if we’ve got nobody to put in them, it’s never going to work,” Myers said, noting the department is looking for additional volunteers.

In other business, the commission:

• Awarded bids for cold-mix asphalt and cold-in-place recycling.

• Gave consensus for a proposed county commission line-item budget for 2019.

• Heard an update from treasurer Lisa Schlegel of the county’s increasing interest income.