Pro: Emergency services district could equalize tax burden
July 20, 2014 at 2:20 a.m.
Providing fire and emergency medical services to unincorporated areas nearly bankrupted the city of Edna.
Jackson County residents voted in 2013 to create an emergency service district, which is also a taxing entity.
In the agreement, the city dropped 10 cents off its tax rate, which was then picked up by the new emergency district.
Although it didn't cost city residents any more than they were already paying, county residents began picking up a larger portion of the tab, said Edna City Manager Ken Knight.
"It was sold on a variety of factors: Safety, fairness and the fact that county residents who were living basically adjacent to the city were getting services they weren't paying for," he said.
Mark Loffgren, a Victoria resident, points to counties as small as Jackson and as big as Travis that operate with fire districts.
"If you're in the city limits, you're being charged twice," he said.
City residents are subsidizing fire service for the county, he said.
"The problem is the county turns around, and if they don't get what they want for fire, they charge more for jail," Loffgren said. "The trouble with fire districts is you have another taxing entity, so you have the bureaucracy you're paying for."
He said "it would be best" if city residents pay for their fire service and county residents pay for theirs.
"Right now, there's a big advantage to living outside city limits," Loffgren said, pointing to the taxes city residents pay. "The county gets off cheap. They're (elected officials are) trying to get the best bang for their buck, but the problem is you and I are in the middle."
Before a district may be created, the county judge must receive a petition signed by at least 100 qualified voters showing the district's boundaries, the services the district will provide and other basic information.
The next steps include hosting a public hearing and an election.
Victoria County Fire Marshal Ron Pray said the issue is out of his hands.
"There are some counties that bill per call, some that have contracts or have their own thing," he said.
The county has 11 volunteer fire departments that work together and with the city's paid department to keep people safe.
"There's a lot of things we could do different, but it's up to commissioners and the judge to determine how they want to do that," he said. "I have no issue with what we're doing now. We could do things different if we wanted to, but that's not my call."
He said the county commissioners have evaluated their options and determined the agreement with the city is "in the best interest of both city and county residents," he said.