McLENNAN COUNTY, Texas (KWTX) – McLennan County commissioners on Tuesday laid the preliminary groundwork for a proposed tax-funded emergency services district to serve the Elm Mott, Chalk Bluff and Lincoln City areas.
Commissioners approved a petition with just over the required 100 signatures from residents of the 37-square-mile area and set a public hearing for July 19 to discuss the possible creation of the new emergency services district.
If the commissioners approve the proposal after hearing comments at the public hearing, they will call an election to see if voters living in the proposed district would approve of a tax increase to support fire and emergency services for this area of McLennan County.
About 336 emergency service districts have been approved in 96 counties since the Texas Legislature authorized the districts in 1989. If commissioners hold the election and voters approve, those living in the area could be assessed up to ‘at an additional 10 cents per $100 of assessment, or about $300 per year for a house worth $300,000.
To call the election, the commissioners must determine that the creation of the district is “feasible”, that it will benefit the district, that it will ensure the safety, welfare and convenience of the public, and that it will contribute to the conservation of real estate or natural resources in the proposed neighbourhood.
The proposal was presented to the county by Casey Perry, chief of Elm Mott Fire & Rescue, a 24-member volunteer unit that recently absorbed additional coverage area when the Chalk Bluff Volunteer Fire Department disbanded. in December due to financial difficulties.
Volunteer fire departments are routinely hampered by financial constraints, with most relying on a small county stipend, donations, and fundraisers to maintain operating budgets.
“We’re going to use a nearby career fire department as an example,” Perry said. “It has an annual budget for a single station of $1.1 million. As the McLennan County Volunteer Fire Department, we operate on $6,599 from the county per year and receive an additional $30 per square mile we cover. It doesn’t even begin to cover our fuel budget, it doesn’t cover our operating expenses such as organization general liability, vehicle insurance, workers compensation, medical malpractice, etc. The rest is donations and fundraising, and 10-20% of the annual fundraising comes from the pockets of our members.
PROPOSED EMERGENCY SERVICES DISTRICT BOUNDARIES IN THE ELM MOTT, CHALK BLUFF AND LINCOLN CITY AREAS
Perry said if the district is approved, county commissioners will appoint five commissioners to oversee its operation, including reviewing regular financial audits.
“Let’s just put it in layman’s terms,” Perry said. “I worked all my life to be able to buy my house, my valuables, my assets. I devoted a lot of time and energy to it. What would you do to protect that? ESD is the easiest way to protect these assets. In addition, we are putting more checks and balances in place. Commissioners will appoint Commissioners to oversee operations. We are asking for more oversight and we are asking the community to reinvest in itself.
Parts of the proposed new district are in the offshore jurisdictions of Waco and Lacy Lakeview, and leaders of those towns would also have to approve its creation, said McLennan County Administrator Dustin Chapman.
Commissioner Will Jones, whose Precinct 3 would encompass the proposed Emergency Services District, said at this stage he was neither for nor against the petition.
“I still think there’s a lot of work to be done in terms of feasibility and stuff like that,” Jones said. “It’s ultimately up to the voters to decide. There are hurdles to get from there to here. But it will absolutely raise taxes in the Chalk Bluff-Elm Mott area. Absolutely.”
McLennan County Judge Scott Felton said he hoped to gauge what area residents think of the proposal during the July 19 public hearing.
“Sometimes people participate and share their opinions and others don’t and then complain about the results.” Felton said. “I urge them to come together and think and think about the pros and cons and make sure they voice their opinions and keep the court informed.”
Perry said his Elm Mott volunteers responded to 288 calls for service last year. So far this year they have been called 226 times, he said, predicting that number could reach 500 to 600 calls before the end of the year.
“With the population boom that McLennan County has experienced, particularly the commercial growth along I-35, the county’s needs exceed the capacity of what the fire departments can currently provide,” Perry said. “It’s something the community needs to think about. It was difficult for us. As the needs of the community continue to grow, we are still struggling to fund it.
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