Smith County ESD Board gets closer to becoming elected - KYTX CBS 19 Tyler Longview News Weather Sports

Smith County ESD Board gets closer to becoming elected

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SMITH COUNTY (KYTX) - A bill that proposes the Smith County Emergency Services District board should be elected instead of appointed, has passed out of committee and is ready for a vote in the Texas House. 

These ESD boards collect property tax and use it to fund fire departments, but local fire departments don't like the idea of elected members.

There are only two ESDs in Smith County. There are 11 fire departments in ESD 2, including Arp, Bullard, Chapel Hill, Dixie, Flint-Gresham, Jackson Heights, Noonday, Red Springs, Troup, Whitehouse and Winona. ESD 1 is comprised of only Lindale Fire Department.

Lots of people from these departments worry about how the people who could be elected to the board, could control their day to day operations.

Right now, the Smith County ESD board positions are appointed by the commissioner's court, which takes suggestions from a citizen based committee.

"Right now we've got a group of guys that think like the firemen do. And that's for the benefit of the citizens, not the benefit of the board or the fire departments," said Smith County Firefighter's Association President Johnny Brown, who has lots of concerns with electing board members.

"Some main concerns are losing good board members, people not willing to run for it, special interest groups getting in there that have no concept of what firefighting or fire suppression or fire prevention is," he said.

He says current board members understand the cost behind providing emergency services.

"I hate to say it, but it does come at a price!" Brown says.

Money is a big reason Rep. Matt Schaefer says he proposed the bill.

"Smith County is growing, the population is growing and over the years it's going to become less rural, and more urbanized and so property value is going to go up, and more property will be taxed, and it's going to be very important for us to have a direct line of accountability," Schaefer said.

He says because the ESD can set its portion of the property tax rate for smith county citizens, the residents should be able to elect them.

However, Brown says holding elections comes at its own price.

"Our money is going to have to pay for an election and we don't know how much that might be," he said.

A county spokesperson confirms the ESD would need to reimburse the county for election costs, which for a one location, one day election, costs about $5,000 - $7,000.

Brown says that takes money away from fire departments.

"Some of the present board members now said they wouldn't serve if they had to run for an office, to pay a filing fee and get out and try to raise campaign funds," Brown said.

To that, Schaefer says, like school board elections, the costs are minimal.

"I understand that might be a difficulty but the benefits in the policy behind electing people that tax us far outweighs any difficulty in the election process," he said.

Schaefer says holding elections will also educate the public on what the ESD board does.

If it passes, firefighters want to make sure the elected members understand what it takes to run a place like this.

Volunteer firefighters have also voiced concern about these positions being at-large, meaning there would be no geographical restrictions on who can run.

Schaefer tells CBS 19, an amendment will be made to the bill so that candidates have to run in the district they're from.

Even though this bill only affects Smith County, state lawmakers must vote on it because the state sets the rules for emergency services district boards.

The smith county commissioners court supports the bill.

 

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