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ESD 1 to vote on tax; Board to call election Thursday

By Richard Greene | Published Wednesday, February 7, 2018
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Since its inception in 2001, the Wise County Emergency Services District No. 1 has operated on the same tax rate.

During that time, the district’s call volume has increased dramatically, along with the expenses of personnel and equipment. Facing the increased costs, the district’s board is planning on calling an election in May to raise the tax rate.

The Wise County ESD No. 1 board will meet at 5:45 p.m. Thursday at the station in Boyd to call the election for May 6. The board is planning on asking voters to approve a 7-cent hike from the current 3 cents per $100 of evaluation to the state limit of 10 cents.

While seeking the increase to 10 cents, the ESD 1 Board President Ken Murray stressed the district plans to only levy a tax of 6 cents in 2018 and possibly raise it to 8 cents in the next two to three years if needed.

“We’re going to ask the voters to approve the 10 cents, which is a 7-cent increase, but our intention is not to raise it to the 10 cents,” Murray said. “We would go from 3 to 6 cents for two or three years and then up to 8 cents. We’d only go to the 10 cents in the future if needed.”

Murray said the board felt it was the best use of the district’s finances to hold an election for the full increase rather than calling multiple elections in the future. Holding this election with Boyd ISD and the city of Boyd will cost the district approximately $3,000.

With the increase, the district hopes to keep its fulltime chief post along with increasing the number of part-time paid staff. Wise County ESD No. 1 Chief Chris Caster, who has been with the district for three years, started full-time in November. The district is committed to paying for the post only until May.

“He’s done an amazing job progressing the department,” Murray said. “We have 19 people, and they are all trained to the firefighter 1 or 2 standards. They are not only trained firefighters but also medically trained.”

Along with a full-time chief, the district is paying for a part-time position, allocating $100 per 12-hour ship. Volunteers can sign up for the shift. The department also has volunteers signing up for night-time shifts.

“We’re not a 24-7 coverage, but that’s where we want to go with additional funding,” Murray said. The additional personnel at the station has allowed to cut the average response time for fire and EMS calls from 7 minutes and 38 seconds in 2015 to 4 minutes and 54 seconds in 2017. That’s while the call volume increased from 883 to 1,086 in two years.

“We’ve seen a dramatic decrease in the response times,” Murray said. “It’s about having the resources here to save lives.

“Chief Caster’s scheduling and having staff here is 90 percent of what’s contributed to that.”

Along with helping to pay for staff, the tax increase would help pay for equipment. Based on figures presented to the board by Caster last month, the average cost for outfitting a firefighter is $2,910. The district also has to pay increasing costs for fuel, utilities and building maintenance.

The district’s total revenue was $248,395 in 2016-17. The expenses tallied $220,569.

The district is paid $4,200 per month by Wise County for fire service.

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