Addressing commissioners

Rich Lewis, right, of Fate was one of several people who addressed the Hunt County Commissioners Court during a July 3 public hearing in support of a proposed Emergency Services District.

A final decision as to whether to put a proposed Emergency Services District proposition on the November ballot is up to the Hunt County Commissioners Court.

The commissioners met met in a special session Monday, and while a discussion on the creation of an Emergency Services District was among the items on the agenda, no decision was announced.

Meanwhile, supporters of a plan to create the district for most of the county’s fire departments made their best plea for the proposal to the commissioners on the night of July 13, arguing the rapid growth in the county is making it difficult for volunteer departments to provide the life saving services which people will need in the years ahead.

“This Emergency Services District is not for us, its for you,” said Geoff Morgan with the Wolfe City Volunteer Fire Department.

County Judge Bobby Stovall said while the commissioners may agree with the firefighters, they may still do not have the information needed to consider including the measure as part of the November election.

“The challenge we have is whether to put this on the ballot or not,” Stovall said, adding that a potential referendum would need to set a proposed tax rate for the district, claiming the supporters had not yet made a convincing case.

“I don’t how you make that determination with what has been presented,” Stovall said.

The commissioners will be required to make their decision on adding the proposition to the ballot at the next regular session July 27.

Both sides agreed the departments are dealing with hard financial times.

Under a Fire Protection Agreement Contract between the commissioners' court and the members of the Hunt County Firefighters Association, each department receives a $2,400 monthly stipend from the county to assist with operating expenses. The departments also receive a stipend from the Hunt Memorial Hospital District.

But the supporters of the ESD proposal, including a large number of firefighters who attended the public hearing meeting at the Greenville Municipal Auditorium, said the payments don’t come close to covering the expenses involved.

Several departments are dealing with outdated vehicles and equipment, not to mention rising fuel costs, the needs for which have been tremendously accelerated due to the exploding growth in Hunt County and the corresponding increases in the number of calls.

Fewer grants are available and the departments dealt with declining fundraising efforts during the past year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The name of the proposed district is Emergency Services District No. 1 and the district would include the entire territorial limits of Hunt County, except for the cities of Commerce, Greenville, Josephine and Royse City.

An ESD is a political subdivision of the state of Texas that has taxing authority to provide emergency medical services, ambulance services and fire prevention and would be governed by a five-member board of commissioners, each serving two-year staggered terms. The board would be appointed by the commissioners' court.

The creation of an ESD would allow for the setting of a tax rate, with the funding going toward the county’s fire and rescue units, up to a maximum of 10 cents per $100 valuation.

Should an election be held, residents within the proposed ESD would be asked to confirm the ESD’s creation and authorize the imposition of the property tax rate.

The supporters of the proposal said they were seeking the maximum tax rate to be included in the proposition.

“You’re asking for 10 cents … and I don’t think the taxpayers are going to go for that,” Stovall said, noting the commissioners are facing a multitude of issues in the next year which include building a new county jail.

“What we are saying is, we need to see the numbers,” added Precinct 3 Commissioner Phillip Martin.

Precinct 1 Commissioner Mark Hutchins said the commissioners court agrees there is a need to better financially support the fire departments.

“The question before us is, is this the best way to do that,” Hutchins said. “The question before us is feasibility, not desirability.”

The commissioners last examined the possibility of an ESD in early 2009 and turned it down at that time as being unfeasible.

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