Emergency Service District costs taxes, but saves lives
By LPR Staff
When many residents of central and western Caldwell County received their property tax statements this year, they probably noticed a significant increase, and a new line-item, the “CESD2,” or the Caldwell County Emergency Service District #2.
The emergency service district (“ESD”) was created after voters approved the dis
trict by an overwhelming margin in the May 2010 election. The purpose of creating the taxing district is to fund the operations of the Maxwell Volunteer Fire Department.
Emergency service districts have become more common throughout Central Texas in recent years, as volunteerism and community donations continue to wane and funds become more and more scarce. However, unlike many ESDs, the Caldwell County ESD #2 intends to use their collected monies not to hire a paid staff of firefighters and first responders, but rather to provide training and equipment to their all-volunteer force.
“We’ve been lucky to be funded for a lot of our purchases in the past through grants,” said David Childress, who is a veteran member of the Maxwell Volunteer Fire Department, and who was appointed by the Caldwell County Commissioners’ Court to sit on the ESD Board last year. “But those grants are starting to dry up, and our equipment is getting older, and it won’t be too long before we really got in a dire situation.”
The dire situation Childress refers to is the impeding expiration of the fire-protective outerwear used by the 18-member department when fighting fires and responding to vehicle accidents and other emergencies in their 42-square-mile district. The material which makes bunker gear fire-protective breaks down over time, and as a result of exposure and wear. Each set of bunker gear, Childress said, comes with a shelf life of 10 years.
And for many volunteers, the clock is ticking.
Referring to his own bunker gear, Childress said it was produced in 2004, and costs as much as $3,000 to replace. His, he said, was among the older suits, but the others are nearing expiration as well.
“Our main priority this first year, and really these first few years, is to get all of our members outfitted,” he said. “And we want to do that on a rotating basis, so that we won’t be in the position we’re in now, where everything is set to expire all at once.” In addition, he said the tax funds collected will help to cover the cost of fuel, oxygen and other equipment used during everyday operations.
“People don’t really think about this, but if we’re out on a fire, we leave those trucks idling until the fire is out and the ‘mop up’ is done,” he said. “And that’s whether it’s a fire in our area or if we’re called out on a mutual aid agreement with one of the other surrounding departments. We can burn through $400 or more in diesel on one call.”
Often, he said, members donate not only their time, but their personal funds toward operations. It’s easier, he said, to pay for a part for a truck and donate it than to have to draw the funds from the department.
“And I’m sure that those of us who do that, will still do that,” he said when discussing the ESD Board’s plans for the $72,000 in tax dollars they stand to collect in their first year in existence. “But we pride ourselves on… we’ve never charged a membership fee for the residents in our area, and we’ve always been able to mostly take care of our own department. When we started talking about forming an ESD, though, we could see down the road that if things kept going like they were going, we weren’t going to be able to exist anymore.”
Emergency service districts can levy taxes up to $0.10 per $100 of valuation on properties in their area. However, those taxes are assessed only against real property, and do not apply to personal property the way some other taxes do, Childress said.
“When we were working on the petition and going through the other legal steps to get the election, and even up to the election, we went door to door and told people that if this thing worked, we were going to be taxing, and that we were going to go for the full ten cents,” he said. “And since the election, I think I’ve only gotten two phone calls from residents of our area who are upset about it.”
Childress concedes that number may change as more residents receive and review their tax statements, and realize the increase in their property taxes.
“When you think about it, though, we’re really only collecting $72,000,” he said. “After barbecues and donations and raffles, that’s a huge amount of money. But for what it’s going to be able to help us do for our residents, that is a huge amount of money.”
In addition to helping to purchase equipment and fuel, Childress said part of the funds will be budgeted for training and certification programs, which will be contingent on a volunteer’s decision to stay with the department for three years or more. In the future, he said, there will likely also be talk of purchasing additional fire apparatus, but the Board has no intent of hiring paid staff.
“We’re a volunteer department and our plan right now is to always stay a volunteer department,” he said. “We’re not looking to change that. But with the monies that we’re going to be able to collect as an ESD, we’ll be a better trained, better equipped and safer volunteer department.”
All of which will help lead to a safer community.