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Wise ESD 1 calls election; District plans resolution to commit to 3-cent increase for 2 years

By Richard Greene | Published Saturday, February 10, 2018
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Greg Arrington witnessed the work of Boyd firefighters last week as they worked to protect his property from a grass fire near Keeter.

“If you have a fire break out right next door and you see these guys hustling to save your stuff, that’s why I say I’ll be first in line [in favor of a tax increase]. They saved my house just last week,” Arrington said. “It was 50 feet off my line. If it hadn’t been for those guys, I figured I was losing my house. I knew I was losing my barn, but I didn’t. They even saved my barn.”

Arrington joined the other Wise County Emergency Services District No. 1 commissioners Thursday in calling an election for May 5 to ask voters to approve a maximum 10-cent tax rate. The district’s current rate is 3 cents per $100 evaluation.

The district plans to only levy a 6-cent tax for the next two years if it passes. Commissioners intend to approve a resolution later this month to reaffirm that promise to voters to keep the rate at 6 cents for the next two years.

“We just want to do what we need to do right now to get the services and personnel in place,” said ESD 1 Board President Ken Murray.

“We’re looking to maintain the level of service we’ve got and hopefully increase that a little bit. The growth this district is looking at in the next three to five years is tremendous. We’ve got to make sure we’re ready to grow with it.”

The district’s call volume increased from 883 to 1,086 in two years. The district has seen the number of overlapping calls increase from 116 in 2015 to 333 in 2017.

Adding personnel at the station, the district has 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.

With the increase, the district hopes to keep its full-time 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.

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

The tax increase would pay for staff and 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.

Since its inception in 2001, the district has operated with the same 3-cent tax rate.

“It’s unfortunate what things cost in 2001 isn’t what it costs today. It costs more,” Arrington said.

Caster and commissioners plan to hold several public meetings to discuss the tax rate.

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