— By JUDY SHERIDAN
Despite confusion over a state statute, uncertainties with fire district boundaries and communications that some say are moving too slowly, the Aledo Volunteer Fire Department has been pressing forward with efforts to convince East Parker County voters to approve joining taxing entity Emergency Services District No. 1.
The proposed annexation of Aledo’s 100-square-mile fire district includes Aledo, Annetta South, most of Annetta and part of Annetta North as well as unincorporated areas.
Citing dwindling support, the 60-year-old VFD filed a petition — signed by almost 100 registered voters — with ESD No. 1 on Nov. 8, requesting to be annexed in order to obtain the financial stability of a tax-supported entity.
ESD No. 1 voted to accept the petition and place the issue on the May 11 ballot at a board meeting on Dec. 11.
Since then, the holidays and a possible change to area boundaries have delayed communications with area cities, Aledo Fire Chief Morris Leondar said.
“There’s a part of the map that Willow Park disputed,” he said, “a small L-shaped area on the border that’s going to be annexed into Willow Park.”
Aledo VFD Captain Stephen Watson, who also serves as assistant fire chief for ESD No, 1, said the VFD is considering a request to adjust the map’s boundaries. He said he doesn’t know the area’s size or how many houses it contains.
The possible adjustment triggered the VFD to withdraw from a Jan. 8 Annetta North council meeting, Leondar said, because the VFD wanted the map to be correct.
ESD No. 1 and VFD representatives also gave city mayors incorrect information during a Dec. 6 luncheon, stating that municipalities inside a fire district may choose whether or not to be annexed and have 60 days to decide following receipt of a formal letter.
It turns out the information was from a section of the Texas Health and Safety Code dealing with ESD creation — not annexation — something ESD officials acknowledged during a Jan. 13 Annetta Town Council meeting.
“In Chapter 775 of the Texas Health and Safety Code, under the inclusion of territory, there is no option for you to opt in or out, ESD No. 1 Fire Chief Eric Vinson said. “It’s the citizens’ voice that makes the decision.”
Annetta North Mayor Rob Watson, whose city is mainly covered by ESD No. 3, is critical of ESD No. 1 for not responding as quickly as ESD No. 3 has to a list of questions about response area, apparatus, staffing, insurance ratings, balance sheets and property values, among others.
He said ESD 3 offers 24-hour paid firefighter coverage, compared with ESD No. 1’s eight-hour paid firefighter coverage on weekdays, with volunteers picking up nights and weekends.
Aledo VFD representatives, however, have said they want to encourage their volunteers to stay connected.
Leondar and Capt. Watson, backed by ESD No. 1 Board President Rena Peden and Vinson, conducted the department’s first formal public information session on the topic at an Aledo City Council meeting Thursday.
They brought a map of the fire coverage area — the area that may be annexed — something officials in Annetta, Annetta North and Annetta South have been asking to see.
Many of those attending the meeting were from outside Aledo city limits.
During the question-and-answer session, Doyle Moss expressed concerns that tax dollars raised in Aledo would go to fund stations in Springtown or other cities covered by the 200-square mile ESD.
Annetta City Councilman Rick Machak, who lives on Airport Road, was surprised to discover he was already inside the coverage area of ESD No. 3.
Another resident inquired about a station to serve the Deer Creek area and was told one was being considered in the Thunderhead area.
Others asked about ESD tax rates, and learned that current Parker County ESD rates range between 8.5 cents per $100 valuation and 10 cents per $100 valuation, the state cap.
ESD No. 1 is currently at the maximum rate, so the tax bill for a $200,000 home would be $200 per year.
Officials pointed out, however, that insurance ratings for the annexed area will improve eventually, lowering insurance costs for homeowners.
Many area residents wondered whether they were included in the proposed annexation area’s boundaries.
Watson said questions and comments could be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org. Information on the ESD is also located at pcesd1.com.
For more information on the proposed annexation, see the Aledo VFD website at aledofd.com.