Former ESD No. 2 president discusses mismanagement issues
A former Emergency Services District No. 2 board president addressed the county commissioners Tuesday to clarify his side of the story in an ongoing disagreement regarding what he called mismanagement of Smith County taxpayer assets and money.
Bryan Bateman served as president on the five-person volunteer group for two years, and said he spent hundreds of hours sifting through financial statements, receipts and asset lists in an effort to bring transparency and responsibility to the district.
Since spring 2012, Bateman said board members have attempted to ascertain the use of assets and manpower by two departments -- Troup and Bullard fire departments -- for emergency calls in Cherokee County.
Bullard and Troup have received more than $22,000 from Cherokee County for first-responder services. Bateman and board members approached the two departments regarding the money that had been collected since 2007, but not repaid to the district, which pays for most of the departments' annual budget, including equipment purchases, payroll and insurance.
Troup agreed to pay ESD the money it receives annually from Cherokee County earlier this year. Bullard agreed to pay the amount during a meeting on Thursday.
ESD No. 2 includes Arp, Bullard, Chapel Hill, Dixie, Flint-Gresham, Jackson Heights, Noonday, Red Springs, Troup, Whitehouse and Winona volunteer fire departments.
Bateman said Smith County taxpayers are subsidizing Cherokee County to cover an area larger than Bullard Fire Department's coverage are in this county.
He told the court he was a "concerned citizen of Smith County" and wanted to inform commissioners that taxpayers may have standing to take legal action in regard to violation of contracts between the district and departments and mismanagement of taxpayer money.
"ESD taxpayers are assuming the cost. That's not legal, and it's not right," he said.
On Dec. 20, Bateman and the board approved action informing Bullard Fire Department it would be in violation of its contract if it crossed into Cherokee County to provide emergency services. At the same meeting, the board gave the department the option to pay the district $50,000 to cover costs.
The board estimated $50,000, because it estimated $200,000 to be the annual "operating costs" for Bullard and that 25 percent of emergency calls were in Cherokee County.
Bullard Fire Chief Keith Newburn said he monitors call volumes, and that his department crossed the county line 15 percent of the time.
On Dec. 27, the court reneged on its reappointment of Bateman in early December and replaced him with another candidate. His second term was to begin Jan. 1.
The commissioners court has authority over appointments to the board.
Commissioner Jeff Warr said he represents southern Smith County, and residents in Bullard, which occupies Smith and Cherokee counties, were concerned after the Dec. 20 decision. Warr said they feared the possibility that emergency services would not be provided during the Christmas and New Year holidays.
"It was the timing of it," he said. "It seemed to be a surprise, and it left everyone worried about what would happen if there was an emergency."
Warr said emergency services are a top priority and local officials should consider the impact to surrounding jurisdictions before action is taken.
Bateman said residents of Bullard and its schools, which lie in Cherokee County but are paid for by Smith County taxpayers, were not going to be denied emergency service.
But Warr said the letter and action taken warned the Bullard department it would face the possibility of voiding its ESD contract if it crossed the line.
Warr said he believes an equitable agreement between Cherokee County, the department, ESD and the city of Bullard can be reached. Newburn agrees.
Bateman said he does not think an agreement fair to Smith County taxpayers will be sought or reached.