New emergency service district proposed in Texas county
Texas officials plan to create Emergency Services District No. 3, which will cover rural communities, to keep pace with rising costs for emergency services
By Joseph Brown
The Huntsville Item, Texas
WALKER COUNTY, Texas — Voters in northern Walker County will get the chance this fall to create a new taxing district in an effort to expand fire protection and emergency medical services.
A plan to create what would be called Emergency Services District No. 3, covering the rural communities of Crabbs Prairie and Pine Prairie, will go before voters in the November election in an effort to keep pace with rising costs for emergency services.
Crabbs Prairie and its sister station in Pine Prairie are the only two volunteer fire stations in Walker County not connected to an ESD.
“They (Pines Prairie VFD) get a little bit from the county and a little bit from the special utility district, but a big chunk of their money is dependent upon fundraisers,” said Walker County Commissioner Danny Kuykendall (Pct 1), whose precinct encompasses much of the proposed district. “It’s really like trying to run a fire department on beans and cornbread versus steak.”
An emergency services district, or ESD, is a subdivision under the Texas Health and Safety Code that generally supports or provides local emergency services, usually medical and fire protection, according to the Texas Municipal League. It can install a sales and use tax rate up to 2 percent and a property tax rate up to 10 cents per $100 of valuation.
Walker County has two ESDs — ESD No. 1 that covers areas east of Huntsville around the city of Riverside, and ESD No. 2 in southeastern Walker County that includes the city of New Waverly.
“Crabbs Prairie VFD covers one of the largest areas in Walker County … we run about as many calls as New Waverly VFD, but yet our funding comes strictly from the county along with community donations,” Crabbs Prairie VFD captain Conrad Liles said. “Our firefighters have other jobs, so their availability does not allow us to provide the same level of service that New Waverly does.”
Crabbs Prairie would not have control over the funds if a new ESD was approved by voters. Under state law, the new ESD would be governed by a board of five commissioners appointed by the Walker County Commissioners Court to two-year staggered terms.
Officials hope that the new district would allow for Crabbs Prairie to staff paid firefighters, similar to their counterparts in New Waverly.
“The days of the volunteer fire department have slimmed up,” Liles said. “Even when we are able to go to a call, our response times are slower, because we don’t have people at the station 24-7. We are fortunate to have some dedicated volunteers that can be at the station during a lot of the day, but that is not the same as having the ability to pay somebody for their time to staff the stations around the clock.”
Under state law, ESD tax revenues may be used to provide training, equipment and facilities for emergency services in the region. Those can include fire prevention, suppression and extinguishment, along with hazardous material incident responses, EMS first response and rescue services.
"Ultimately, it is the voters that are going to decide if they want to do this or not,” Liles added. “The main benefit of an ESD is that we will be able to get true service for the citizens in northern Walker County.”
Election Day is scheduled for Nov. 5 in Walker County, with early voting running from Oct. 21 through Nov. 1.
See detailed map of the proposed ESD 3 at www.itemonline.com.
©2019 The Huntsville Item (Huntsville, Texas)