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China Grove, Harmony, Lone Oak consider ESD
COURTESY BEXAR COUNTY —
The lighter area to the bottom right of this map depicts the portion of southeast Bexar County that would be included in the proposed Emergency Services District No. 9.
Three fire departments in southeast Bexar County are considering the creation of what could become Emergency Services District (ESD) No. 9. Voters who reside in areas currently serviced by China Grove, Harmony, and Lone Oak volunteer fire departments could decide the issue in the May 2015 election, according to China Grove fire Chief Mike Winfield.
Bexar County spokesman Laura Jesse said the proposed ESD would would have a total land area of 102 square miles.
China Grove responds to fires within an approximately 18-mile area that includes both the city limits and the surrounding unincorporated area. The incorporated portion is not included in the proposed ESD, Winfield said. The city pays its fire department an annual stipend of $60,000.
The department also receives a $20,000 stipend from Bexar County, which Winfield said likely will end, as the county government continues to tighten its fiscal belt.
Fewer than 41 percent of residents in the unincorporated areas surrounding the city contribute an additional $10,000 to $15,000 per year toward China Grove Fire and Rescue’s operating costs.
“In order to do anything, it requires money,” Winfield said.
If voters approve the new ESD, the Bexar County Commissioners Court would appoint a five-member board of commissioners to oversee the district’s operation. That board would contract fire-service providers for the ESD. Winfield said the plan is to operate one station in the three existing service areas.
Winfield, who has been China Grove’s fire chief for 13 years, sees a new fire station as the department’s single greatest need. He said a larger building that is more centrally located within its service area is needed, with more space for training, parking, and the housing of equipment. The current station is located on F.M. 1516 next to China Grove City Hall.
Lone Oak’s fire Chief Ronnie McGovern, who has spent at least two decades of his life as a volunteer firefighter, said it costs an estimated $1,000 per week to run the department, headquartered near the intersection of U.S. 87 and Loop 1604. Like China Grove, the department also receives a $20,000 annual stipend from the county. Additional annual funding includes up to $18,000 from a membership drive and approximately $16,000 from a picnic. Creation of an ESD, he said, would place the focus back on firefighting, instead of spending half of the year planning fund-raisers.
McGovern said that like other departments throughout Texas, Lone Oak’s greatest need is manpower. He has a roster of 16 active firefighters to service a 38-square-mile coverage area wedged between China Grove and the Wilson County line.
Chief Adrian Del Toro of the Harmony Volunteer Fire Department could not be reached for comment.
Bexar County currently has 11 ESDs. Two -- ESD No. 12 covering the St. Hedwig area and ESD No. 6 covering the area between the Atascosa County line and far southeast San Antonio -- border Wilson County. San Antonio is the largest incorporated area in Bexar County that is not part of such a district
What is an ESD?
An emergency services district (ESD) is a political subdivision created under Title 9, Subtitle B, Chapter 775 of the state’s Health and Safety Code. It only can be created by a vote of the citizenry of the affected area, who would choose to have a dedicated ad valorem tax levied. By law, the tax rate cannot exceed 10 cents per $100 of taxable property value. Funds derived from this tax only could be used for the purpose for which they initially were assigned, such as fire or ambulance services.
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