The Smith County Emergency Services District #2 covers most of the county.
Its governing board is appointed by the Commissioner’s Court.
The whole purpose of the 2003 law that created the ESD’s is to organize financing for small, volunteer fire departments with a property tax, so they get the equipment and training they need with a dependable funding mechanism.
But in a district as large as this, that involves millions of dollars, and the board has made mistakes.
Perhaps nothing is more symbolic of the mess at Emergency Services District #2 than the Whitehouse Volunteer fire Department Station #2 on highway 110 between Whitehouse and Winona.
It is huge, modern, state of the art. It’s finished and ready to go. It is also empty.
In fact, it was finished and ready to go in 2010. But the City of Whitehouse, fed up with the confusion, pulled out of the ESD and now finances its own department operating out of the original, rather modest digs here in town.
Commissioner Terry Phillips is among those who have had enough.
“I believe it’s like taxation without representation,” he told us.
District 6 Representative Matt Schaefer has proposed doing something about it.
“The emergency services districts do have the power to tax. Therefore I believe that they need to be directly elected by the public,” Schaefer says.
“Because all we as Commissioners can do is appoint these board members,” Phillips explained. “And then we have no control over them. I believe they need to be held accountable directly to the voter.”
Board members have been quoted as worrying the whole thing will become too political.
That’s possible, but supporters say, with elections comes accountability.