By CHRISTIN COYNE
Two cities not included in the proposed Emergency Services District No. 1 annexation in East Parker County have raised issues with the annexation map that includes the cities’ extraterritorial jurisdictions, an issue that could affect municipal planning and growth.
The ESD has declined to redraw the map that voters in the affected area and current ESD will vote on in May, Willow Park Mayor Richard Neverdousky told the city council last week, shortly before the group discussed options to oppose annexation of their ETJ.
ESD No. 1 Board President Rena Peden told the Democrat on Friday that the cities of both Willow Park and Fort Worth have expressed issues with the potential annexation of their respective ETJs. However, the district’s attorney has told the district it cannot change the proposed annexation area that was provided by Aledo VFD when they initially sought annexation, according to Peden.
The affected land within both cities’ ETJs was included in the annexation proposal because it is currently a part of the Aledo Volunteer Fire Department fire service area.
The fire service boundaries drawn by the Parker County Fire Marshal’s Office based on response time don’t line up with the ETJ boundaries, determined by distance from city limits.
They are trying to play nice with their neighbors, Aledo VFD Lt. Nick Walker said, adding the fire department simply included what they have been serving for years and wasn’t aware the city was going to expand its ETJ.
Further complicating issues are what fire officials agree are outdated fire service area boundaries that have areas better served by Willow Park currently in Aledo’s fire service area and thus the annexation area.
The Aledo Volunteer Fire Department currently provides both fire department and medical first responder services to a large portion of East Parker County, serving several cities as well as unincorporated areas.
The department collected about 100 petition signatures from affected residents and approached the ESD in November seeking annexation of their fire service area because of declining funding, increasing number of calls, rising costs and other burdens on the department in recent years.
Tasked with providing emergency services, an ESD can levy an ad valorem tax of up to 10 cents per $100 valuation, according to state law.
Because the cities of Aledo, Annetta, Annetta South and Annetta North do not provide their own fire service, all or portions of the cities were included in the annexation proposal.
The department’s budget has dropped in recent years from approximately $500,000 to about $250,000 in annual funding, department officials reported.
The past three years, the City of Aledo has contributed $50,000, covering the cost of one paid firefighter working weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. At one point, the city was donating more, according to Walker.
Together, the 3three Annettas have averaged a total of about $1,300 in yearly contributions during the past three years, according to Walker. It has not been a consistent number as the towns have given what they could, Walker said.
The department also receives subsidies from Parker and Tarrant counties, including about $49,000 from Parker County and $34,000 from Tarrant County ESD No. 1 for coverage of about 20 to 30 square miles in unincorporated areas.
However, the department is primarily funded through donations. The fire department will die if it continues the way it has, Walker said.
Willow Park issues
As only voters in the current ESD and proposed annexation area will vote on the issue, Willow Park residents won’t have a say.
Part of the concern for Willow Park is the cost of annexing property from an ESD.
Cities can take over responsibility for providing fire service for areas in their ETJ but must, according to state law, compensate the district based on the area’s share of debt, as well as property used to provide services, when that area is disannexed from the district.
After recently ordering three new fire engines for just over $1 million, ESD No. 1’s debt will total $1.89 million this fiscal year, according to ESD No. 1 Assistant Chief Stephen Watson, who is also an Aledo VFD volunteer.
Willow Park officials noted that high-value industrial property, including property owned by Magellan, appears to be within the territory under dispute and could drive the city’s cost up if and when the city decides to annex the area into the city.
Asked which department would arrive first to that area if called, Willow Park Fire Chief Brent Sauble said he believed Willow Park firefighters would get there faster.
“Basically their ESD board president said they will not redraw their lines,” Neverdousky said. “The whole answer is this is a big money grab.”
The council discussed formally requesting a change to the current fire districts and the ESD annexation map, approaching the target area about a voluntary annexation into the city, and sending a letter to the elections administrator and others protesting that the annexation exceeds statutory authority.
Aledo and ESD officials reported that they expected to work with Willow Park officials to reach some sort of agreement on the issue.
Walker said they want to work with the city and be cautious in what area they are taking.
Neverdousky said some of the mayors plan to ask State Rep. Phil King about closing the legal loophole that does not allow a creation of an ESD within a city’s ETJ without permission but does allow annexation of the same area by an existing district.
Fire service district boundaries
The fire service district boundaries relied upon by officials in drawing the annexation map are due for an update.
Parker County Fire Marshal Shawn Scott told the Democrat the fire service area boundaries are decided based on response times and capabilities.
Fire service boundaries in the county have not been changed since 2008, according to Scott, who said his office started looking last year at redrawing the portion of the fire service map his office is still responsible for despite expanding cities and ESDs in recent years.
Because he does not have the authority to assign fire service areas within an emergency services district and the ESD elections last year made the playing field uncertain, they put it off, according to Scott.
Because some of the map was put together when Willow Park was still a volunteer department and paid staff tends to significantly impact response time, Scott said he believes there would be a difference in fire service area boundaries now.
But the uncertainty about what his office will still be responsible for after May continues to delay the remapping efforts.
“I’m going to kind of sit back and wait and see how these lines shake out,” Scott said, adding it would be a waste of time and effort to redraw boundaries now that could change in May.