By Judy Sheridan
Despite stiff opposition from most East Parker County mayors, Parker County voters decided May 11 that the Aledo Volunteer Fire Department district will join Emergency Services District No. 1.
“The word I would use is relief,” Nick Walker, a spokesman for Aledo VFD said. “We weren’t expecting the opposition. We’re glad citizens made the right choice, and we won’t let them down.”
Firefighters sought the annexation to secure a dependable tax base in the face of rising costs. They selected ESD No. 1 for its operational stability and fiscal strength, Walker said.
“Obviously, we’re delighted with the result of the election,” ESD No. 1 Board President Rena Peden said. “We’re looking forward to working with Aledo.”
Voters in both affected entities — the Aledo VFD coverage area and ESD No. 1 — had the same two ballot propositions, one related to the annexation, the other related to accepting the ESD’s debt.
Voters in ESD No. 1 approved both proposals by wide margins, voting 712 to 362 in favor of the annexation and 655 to 407 in favor of voters in the Aledo VFD district assuming a proportionate share of the ESD’s outstanding debts and taxes.
The tallies were much closer for voters in the Aledo VFD district, where voters approved the annexation by only 42 votes — 631 to 589 — and rejected the proposition to assume a portion of the ESD’s outstanding debts and taxes, with 582 in favor and 625 against.
An ESD No. 1 attorney contacted County Judge Mark Riley after the election to say the annexation was successful despite Aledo district voters’ rejection of the second proposition. He said the rejection meant only that the new revenue generated from the annexed area cannot be used to retire the ESD’s previous debt.
ESD No. 1 Board President Rena Peden confirmed the attorney’s statement Monday, saying the ESD would need to construct a separate accounting system to ensure that money collected from the Aledo District does not go toward paying down the ESD’s current debt.
The rejection will not result in a separate, lower tax rate for the Aledo district, she said, nor limit the district’s future revenue contributions toward other ESD fire departments.
“I don’t know what the intent of the [ESD] law was,” she said, when asked about the second proposition’s rationality. “The intent might have been to give some flexibility. Often the rational thing at the time doesn’t always make clear sense.”
Tax collections from voters in the newly annexed Aledo district won’t begin until January 2015, Peden said, because properties won’t be on the tax roll until 2014.
Services, however, should be in place much sooner, she said.
Peden said the ESD No. 1 Board, meeting for a mid-year budget review next Monday, will consider replacing one of Aledo VFD’s fire engines and adding paid personnel. New fire engines have a long lead time from order to delivery, she said, but firefighter positions can be filled quickly.
The county has begun soliciting applications from those who would like to serve on the ESD No. 1 board, which has one vacancy. Peden feels confident that Parker County commissioners will appoint someone to represent the Aledo area.
A political flyer advising citizens to vote against the annexation proposal — sponsored by Parker County Citizens for Responsible Public Safety and signed by the six area mayors — helped trigger Aledo Mayor Kit Marshall’s ninth hour public entry into the political fray.
After saying little since Aledo VFD petitioned ESD No. 1 for inclusion Nov. 8, Marshall came out strongly in favor of the annexation last week.
“It was a result of misinformation I saw in the flyer and the robocalls coming in,” said Marshall, who said she doesn’t usually like to influence how Aledo residents vote. “I didn’t want people to think I was part of that group of mayors. It also became clear that people were confused about what they were reading and hearing.”
Annetta North Mayor Rob Watson said Annetta North officials will now re-evaluate plans they have made with ESD No. 3 to serve the Annettas and continue to encourage ESD No. 1 to provide full-time paid firefighters 24/7.
“Proposition number one passed by a narrow margin even though the Aledo population, by a wide margin, outnumbers the Annettas’ voters within the annexation territory,” he said.
“Based on a report, ESD No. 1 has a large debt balance and financial commitments, so I am pleased the voters voted against assuming the debts and taxes under Proposition No. 2.”
Some of the mayors, however, are working to overturn the election, Annetta South Mayor Gerhard Kleinschmidt said.
“The people in favor of ESD No. 1 managed to obfuscate the issue and make it difficult to comprehend what a yes or no vote would mean,” he said. “That’s part of the reason they got the vote.”