|Trinity Standard - Local News
Copyright 2011 - Polk County Publishing Company
Tax districts eyed to fund VFDs
Trinity Standard -
GROVETON – The creation of Emergency Service Districts (ESDs) to raise tax revenue for local fire departments was discussed Monday during the Trinity County Commissioners Court meeting. Kim Meshell, president of the Apple Springs Volunteer Fire Department’s board, came before the commissioners to outline her department’s plans to set up such a tax district. She noted that with their need for additional equipment, it is becoming increasingly difficult to generate enough through donations to operate. The only public funds ASVFD currently receives is its annual contribution of $12,200 from Trinity County to help cover the cost of fighting rural fires. The county currently provides contributions to all six of the county’s volunteer departments including $15,000 to the Trinity VFD; $10,300 to the Groveton VFD; $5,300 to the 356 VFD in Carlisle; $2,500 to the Pennington VFD; and $2,300 to the Friday VFD. “The recent Bearing Fire demonstrated that we need additional equipment,” Meshell told commissioners. “I’m here today to let you know what our plans are.” She said under state law, special tax districts may be established to support fire and ambulance services and they plan to set up such a district. To do so, they are in the process of gathering signatures from 100 area landowners. The petition would then be presented to the county commissioners, who would be asked to call an election. Although the boundaries of the district probably would coincide with the Apple Springs and Centerville school districts, Meshell said the exact lines would be established by the time the petition is presented. If a majority of voters inside the proposed district approve, the district would be created and the commissioners would appoint a board to oversee the ESD. Meshell said the law currently allows an ESD to set a tax rate of up to 10 cents per $100 in assessed value. She noted ASVFW would need a rate of only about three cents in order to generate the money it requires at this time. Meshell noted that while taxpayers would be asked to pay an additional tax, they could have that cost more than offset by lower insurance premiums. She noted that as ASVFW increases its ability to fight fires, insurance companies would change the local fire rating and costs to homeowners could fall by as much as 25 percent. Under the three cent tax rate that is now being discussed, she noted someone with a home with a $100,000 tax value would only pay $30 per year. Pct. 1 Commissioner Grover “Tiger” Worsham expressed interest in the plan, noting he has been considering something similar for both the Groveton and 356 VFDs in his precinct. “This will be the future of all volunteer fire departments,” Worsham said, “Everything is just too expensive o fund through donations.” Commissioners asked Worsham to host a meeting of representatives from all six county VFDs about the possibility of setting up an ESD for each of them. Meshell noted she has been in contact with a state official that helps set up ESDs and would help arrange to have him at the meeting with all the fire departments. When asked if it would be better to set up a county-wide EDS to cover all six, Meshell noted that when that has been done in other parts of the state, disputes have occurred over the division of the money. White gives update State Rep. James White (R-Hillister) also appeared to provide commissioners with an update on new laws that came out of this years meeting of the Texas Legislature. He also voiced his thanks to County Judge Doug Page for his work in Austin over the past few months. “Judge Page has been a very, very effective advocate for you,” he told commissioners. “He was up there, he was in the halls and he was meeting with people about the things that concern Trinity County.” In outlining changes that will affect county government, White encouraged the commissioners to keep the local budgets “lean and mean.” He noted that the two-year budget passed in Austin this year is down by $15.2 billion from the one approved in 2009 and among the areas hard hit were grant programs. “At least we stemmed the tied of unfunded mandates,” White said. “We weren’t able to roll any back, but we did managed to put our thumbs in the dike.” Unfunded mandates are costs passed along by the state legislature to local governments. They occur when the legislature passes laws requiring county, city or other governments to do something without providing them with the money to cover the costs. Among the other changes impacting the county government outlined by White include a law authorizing the delivery of tax bills electronically; a bill that will help counties preserve and store old records dating from 1860 to Jan. 1, 1951; and a bill that allows the surviving spouse of a disabled veteran to keep the veterans special tax exemptions.