ESD maps approved Tuesday

Published on Tuesday, 17 June 2014 23:57 - Written by ADAM RUSSELL arussell@tylerpaper.com

To view the Smith County Emergency Services maps, go to tinyurl.com/oju28yu for District 1 and tinyurl.com/p33b53w for District 2.

 

Commissioners approved maps creating district lines for Emergency Services Districts No. 1 and No. 2 on Tuesday.

Map plans No. 1 for both ESDs were approved.

Two map plans were created for ESD No. 2. But a second was drafted because three of five current board members would be in the same district on the initial map proposed by the consulting firm tasked with drawing the lines within federal guidelines.

Map No. 1, the map approved by commissioners, placed board president Randy Melton, treasurer Bill Bellenfant and Robert Dear in the same district based on their home addresses.

Map No. 2 would have put Melton and Dear in the same district.

Smith County Fire Marshal Jay Brooks met with ESD No. 2 fire department chiefs on Monday. The consensus preference was Map No. 2 because it maintained most of the current board.

“They were behind plan two because they felt there was finally cohesion with the board,” he said. “They’re worried about continuity because they felt things were moving in the right direction.”

Brooks said the county’s Fireman’s Association, which represents departments, would have to play a more active role in the political process to express its views on fire protection and emergency services.

Supporters of the legislation believed members of any governmental body that taxes residents should be answerable via election. Opponents believed making the boards elected positions would cost taxpayers and reduce the pool of residents willing to serve.

Fireman’s Association Vice President Jerry Garner said he believes the change will reduce the number of residents willing to run for the unpaid elected positions.

Only one current ESD No. 1 board member plans to file as a candidate, he said. He said other members have “no interest” in running political campaigns for the positions.

ESD No. 1 board president Annie Baldwin said she had not heard any negative feedback regarding the lone proposed map. Garner, Ms. Baldwin and other members were opposed to the legislation that made the positions elected.

“I spoke against it in Austin,” Garner said. “But we’ll make the best of what’s in place.”

ESD No. 1 includes Lindale Fire Department and collected less than 6 cents per $100 valuation, or $639,000, in 2012.

ESD No. 2 includes Arp, Bullard, Chapel Hill, Dixie, Flint-Gresham, Jackson Heights, Noonday, Red Springs, Troup, Whitehouse and Winona volunteer fire departments and collected more than $4 million from taxpayers in 2012 based on a property tax rate of 8.46 cents per $100 valuation.

The maps are drawn proportionally based on voting-age population.

The maps were approved to add the 10 positions to November ballots. The two five-member boards would be elected to four-year terms. Members would then draw lots to decide which three members would serve four-year terms and which two would have to run again in two years to keep the terms staggered in the future.

Smith County will become the first county in the state to make emergency service board positions elected. Oversight and board appointment powers rest with county commissioners courts by state law.

But a local law was passed during the 2013 Legislative Session making the five-member boards elected bodies.

Supporters believed members of any governmental body that taxes residents should be answerable via election. Opponents said making the boards elected positions cost taxpayers and reduce the pool of residents willing to serve.

County Judge Joel Baker said there were differing opinions on the ESD No. 2 maps. In the end, he believes the court approved the most objective map. He said it was a shame the maps put quality board members in the same district but that it was important to remain close to existing jurisdictional lines.

“Clearly, it will be changes on the board and it has been operating smoothly lately but the maps go beyond this board,” Baker said.