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Emergency services district negotiates fire coverage for Edna ISD

By Jennifer Lee Preyss
Aug. 7, 2013 at 3:07 a.m.

Edna Fire Department Capt. Nick Strauss helps file paperwork while Fire Marshal Buster Chase transports a fire truck back from repairs in Corpus Christi.

Three months after Edna ISD residents created Emergency Services District No. 3, the district commissioners are negotiating with the city of Edna to maintain fire and emergency services.

"Some of the commissioners thought it was the only option we had," said ESD Chairman Jake Srp, who had voted against the motion last week to accept Edna's proposal. "I obviously didn't feel like that. We should have attempted to negotiate (a better rate) with the city. It would have been a difficult negotiations process, but it would have been worth it."

Before creating the Emergency Services District taxing entity in May, Edna City Manager Ken Knight said residents of the Edna ISD area risked losing fire and EMS coverage because it cost the city too much for such services.

Now that the ESD taxing entity is in place, it is projected to generate about $550,000 annually, which will be spent on EMS and fire coverage for residents in the area.

Srp, a Victoria attorney, said the commissioners heard two proposals at a July 30 meeting about possible contracts for use of the district funds.

The first was from Edna, which included a plan for full-time fire coverage, hazmat and EMS services and would cost about $1 million. The city would subsidize a portion of the funds from EMS-generated revenue, and the remaining money would be budgeted annually by the city.

The other proposal was from Jackson County Hospital District CEO Bill Jones, who said the district would provide EMS coverage for free.

Jones said that while he appreciates Edna officials trying to ensure emergency coverage for taxpayers, he doesn't agree that they should be taxed twice - and for some city residents, three times - for the same EMS coverage.

"It will cost more for ESD to duplicate the EMS service when the hospital already provides it. They already pay for the EMS services, and now, they'll be taxed twice for the same service," Jones said. "We're perfectly capable of providing those services at no charge to the ESD because they're already part of the service."

Jones said it was his fiscal responsibility to remind the district commissioners that the district can provide EMS coverage at no cost and has the ability to purchase another ambulance and hire another staff member if needed.

"All that's really necessary here is the fire service," Jones said, which he believes can be contracted through the city for less than $1 million annually.

Jones said that if the city regains control of EMS and fire coverage, any EMS-related revenues generated by the city would only be spent in maintenance and upkeep.

"EMS has revenue, but it also has expenses. In accounting, that's called a net loss," Jones said.

Jones also said fire officials have commented publicly that their fire call volume is low, and the bulk of their calls are EMS.

Jones said the hospital district will assist the emergency services district and the city in any way it can and provide EMS services whenever needed.

"There's no gain for us here, no competition with the city. There's nothing to gain from this except giving the people what they're already paying for," Jones said.

The city manager said he's pleased with the district's decision and hopes to have a contract signed by the end of August.

"Nothing is final yet, but it's moving in that direction to be contracted with the city," Knight said. "At this point, it's moving in a positive direction."

Edna Fire Marshal Loyd "Buster" Chase also said he was pleased the commissioners voted to accept their proposal for fire and EMS coverage.

"They've accepted our proposal, and we hope to keep the fire department running as it was before and maybe even add a few additional part-time personnel, pending the outcome of the decision," Chase said.

Srp said district funds can only stretch so far, and the city will end up paying some fire expenses in any scenario the two entities agree upon.

"The taxpayers spoke out and said it was important to them to have fire services," Srp said. "Either way, we're going to require some help from the city unless we resort to a volunteer fire department, which isn't what people want to do."

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