Citizens weigh in on ESD

By Kristen Tribe | Published Wednesday, August 8, 2018

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Several citizens attended an hour-long public hearing at the Wise County Courthouse last week about the possibility of establishing an Emergency Services District in the Boonsville/Balsora area.

DRAWING LINES – The map shows the boundaries of the proposed Emergency Services District No. 2.

An ESD levies an ad valorem tax, up to 10 cents per $100 property valuation, on everyone who owns property within the district. The taxes cover the cost of upkeep and staff for the fire department and other emergency services.

If this ESD is established, it would include 65 square miles in the southwest corner of the county, which is primarily in the Boonsville/Balsora fire district but includes some acreage protected by the Salt Creek Fire Department. The estimated property value is $400 million, which would garner $40,000 with a 1-cent tax.

Dennis Penney said a 2-cent tax would surpass the total the department receives annually in donations and from the county. If established, a five-person board appointed by county commissioners would oversee the ESD and its funds.

“According to the Health and Safety Code, the board members have to act in the best interest of an area to provide for public safety,” Penney said. “They’re required to do what’s best for the area protected.

A Salt Creek firefighter was leery of the ESD because part of his department’s territory is within the proposed boundaries, but there’s no guarantee his department will receive funding from the tax.

“My concern is we’re losing territory that may cost us money in the long run,” the Salt Creek firefighter said. “They have no way of knowing if their ESD board will give us a dime.”

Paul Wood said the board would likely contract with the Salt Creek department.

Penney added Salt Creek said they did not want to be part of the ESD, and they would have excluded it but it complicated the boundaries.

“It was the only way we could get through there without having a land surveyor come out there,” he said. “This way it keeps from having some people half in the district and half out.

“It was the only way we could get through there.”

Robert Grantham said he wasn’t the biggest taxpayer in the area but he “paid his fair share for someone with ag-based income,” and he fully supports the establishment of an ESD.

“I’m all for it,” he said. “I think we need it. “For anyone who might be on the fence about whether we should do it or not, it’ll be capped at 10 cents. And I feel like in our area, for a long while, we’ll have good volunteer firemen, but in our area we may need a shift of people at least.”

Joey Highfill, who spoke in favor of the ESD, said increased funding could improve response times. “My property is going to raise $200 a year at the 10-cent mark, and as a first responder, whether it’s a medical call or fire on the property next to you, your family or cattle are threatened, $200 is real cheap when seconds or minutes count,” he said.

He lives less than one mile from the station and he explained that 30 minutes may pass between the time a call is placed to dispatch, the department is notified and when they arrive on scene.

“By the time you get up if it’s at night or get off the tractor and depending on who’s at work or who’s on vacation … 30 minutes is a long time when your house is on fire. Or your stove is on fire and now your house is,” he said. “To me it’s not a large amount when you think what you’ll lose in those few minutes.

“It will take time, but in the long run, there will be a faster response time and that means a lot to me as a citizen.”

Precinct 3 County Commissioner Gaylord Kennedy said he thinks the entire county will one day require ESDs.

“The volunteer fire departments, it’s just not like it used to be,” he said. “Previously, people on the department lived here, worked here and they could run out and fight a fire. It’s getting to the point everybody works somewhere else, and they’re not here during the day.

“I think the whole county will be this way. Eventually that’s what’s going to have to happen,” he said. “I think this is a good thing. I don’t like to pay more taxes, but we do need fire protection.”

County commissioners will decide Aug. 13 if the issue will be on the November ballot. Last week’s public hearing was prompted by a citizen petition in favor of the ESD.

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