By JUSTON STELZER
President, Aledo Volunteer Fire Department
On March 8, 2005, at 6 a.m. I was woken to a phone call that my wife had just been in an accident near the intersection of Old Annetta Road and McDavid Terrace. I jumped up and jumped in my car and sped to the scene. Before I got there the Aledo Volunteer Fire Department had made scene and extricated her from the car and by God’s grace she was unharmed.
I lead with this tidbit because this was my first interaction with the professionalism and integrity of the Aledo Volunteer Fire Department. One month later, I applied for membership to the department and was accepted on a 120-day probation/training period. Since then I have served as fundraising chairman, secretary, recruitment and retention officer, vice president and, for the last four years, president.
As not only an almost 10-year resident of the Deer Creek and Annetta/Annetta South community, but also an eight-year active member of the Aledo Volunteer Fire Department, I have recently learned of some misleading information that has been spread throughout my neighborhood by some of their elected officials concerning the upcoming Aledo Volunteer Fire Department annexation into Emergency Services District 1 election.
Please note that before the election was ordered, we informed all of the affected mayors in a lunch meeting of the petition and information concerning our needs and what the ESD will do for us. None of these mayors attended the public hearing before the election was ordered. Below are excerpts of quotations from an email response by a local mayoral candidate to some concerned citizens about the stance he has taken on the Annexation election and my factual response to his misguided interpretations of the issue:
“This is a very complicated issue and most people are unaware of the long-term implications of an annexation into an ESD. Our lawyers have cautioned against joining one without solid contracts to protect our citizens from taxation without representation.”
Not sure what this means. This election is for the citizens of the Aledo fire district. Some of those citizens live in small towns but many live in the unincorporated areas of the county. The Aledo VFD has a much bigger responsibility than just for the small town of Annetta.
Additionally, this election does not impact small towns like Annetta that do not provide emergency or fire services. And, given the expense to do so, Annetta will not likely ever provide those services. Emergency Services Districts (ESDs) were created as a political subdivision of the State of Texas, like a school district or a county. As Texas outgrows the abilities of cities and rural volunteer fire departments, ESDs are on the cutting edge of providing fire protection and emergency medical response to large portions of the state.
Citizens in the ESDs do have representation – both through their representative on the ESD board (which the Aledo VFD would have immediately if this passes) and as an individual who has an opportunity to be heard at every meeting (first item on each agenda). It is my understanding that if this does not pass, ESD 3 will attempt to hold the next election.
“The short version is that although I want to support the brave men and women of the Aledo Volunteer Fire Department, this annexation under current law would absolutely cripple the towns that are included in the annexation from ever having a part in planning for their emergency services.”
You might check with “the brave men and women of the Aledo Volunteer Fire Department” to see if they believe this statement. The flyer you received last week would lead you to believe that current law is going to be changed in a couple of weeks. Not true. HB 1798 has been “dead” for over six weeks and everyone knows it. I am astonished that they put out something as untruthful as this. The bill was seriously flawed and had the potential to leave people without service of any kind and was pulled back by the author. The current law does nothing to cripple towns or any citizen from participation. This is a calculated scare tactic.
“AVFD has never communicated that their inability to raise enough money was forcing them into this position. Donations are way down but they want to continue operating under their own rules and as they see fit. This has never been in a participatory way with any of the cities in the area served by them. They have been an island unto themselves for over 61 years. They now find themselves in a position in which they are absolutely desperate and need a bailout.”
The Aledo VFD has been attending Annetta Township budget meetings hat in hand for years requesting any and all support the townships will give. They have averaged in the last six years just $1,300 in annual support collectively, which is only about one half of 1 percent of our annual operating budget!
Last Wednesday evening (May 1) the Aledo VFD had a town hall meeting at the Aledo Community Center for citizens to address their concerns about Annexation into ESD 1. The mayor was there chastising the firefighters for not coming to Annetta to plead their case. We have done this repeatedly for years! He essentially tried to blame the fire department that we don’t have better donations.
Let’s consider this for a minute. Volunteer firefighters have full-time jobs. They then return home to their full-time volunteer job. Here is just a little of what we have on our plates:
• Answering emergency medical and fire calls .
• Spend hours keeping the fire house in order.
• Spend hours keeping the equipment in running order.
• Spend hours keeping their certifications current and attending skills training.
• Spending hours recruiting and training new volunteers.
• Keeping up with ordering equipment and supplies.
• Writing grants when available to help pay for equipment.
• Keeping a variety of statistics and financial records.
• AND, exhaustive efforts required raising the money to do it all.
Each year the Aledo VFD holds pancake breakfasts, steak dinners and visits with the small towns in their service area asking for financial help. Everyone knows donations, grant funding, citizen and county support have declined while demand for service increases by about 15 percent per year. This is not something new. The volunteers give 110 percent. The town of Annetta gave only $750 last year to help the VFD. Contrary to statements made by the mayor, the ESD 1 board has agreed to put money collected back into the district to hire full-time firefighters, build stations and update equipment.
“The State Legislature is recognizing that there are some serious problems with the ESD laws as many ESDs are actively trying to grab taxable area before corrections can be made to the laws.”
This is another untruth. Aledo approached the ESD long before any change to the law was crafted. Aledo presented the petition in November 2012. This annexation request was the reason for HB 1798, which was not written until 2013. ESD 1 had nothing to do with this annexation except to approve the petition when it was presented. By law, ESD 1 has the duty to either accept or deny the petition and does not officially take a stand. Unlike the City of Annetta, ESD 1 has honored the citizen’s petition request and provided them the right to choose in election.
“It is my belief that all of the East Parker County cities can do much better by listening to our citizens about the needs they have and exercising some power over what the services provided should be. This ‘one-size-fits-all’ vote that we are being asked to weigh in on only benefits the AVFD. Although brave and effective at the volunteer level, they are unwilling to step up their standards in any real and enforceable way at the requests of those they serve even if this vote passes. Basically, we’ll be unable to contractually improve standards to a point where our citizens are better served in each community and forever give up the ability to control our emergency.”
Simply not true and what a slap in the face. The citizens will speak in the election. The whole reason for the request for annexation is to improve service and safety to our community. The Aledo VFD knows what those needs are. We are in the emergency services business and are trained for that purpose.
The small towns in this area have never concerned themselves with emergency service because they knew Aledo VFD was providing it. Now that Aledo VFD is asking the citizens of their fire district to approve a tax to support these efforts, there is a sudden interest.
It is all about the money! We presented ESD 1 with our plan for needed fire stations, full-time personnel, upgrades to equipment, etc., and the plan was approved. ESD 1 has committed to work to Aledo VFD’s plan to provide the infrastructure needed to respond to a growing district. The reason Aledo VFD selected ESD 1 rather than ESD 3 or ESD 6 was because they are the only ESD that can help finance improvements on Day One after the election. Tax revenue won’t be paid until 2015. ESD 3 budget cannot support a district as large as Aledo’s.
“As a mayor, I cannot support the current annexation request as I believe it is vastly one sided and inconsiderate of the town’s future needs. If the citizens in Annetta want a higher level of service with full-time paid firefighters, a training facility, emergency medical services and ambulance, we have to plead with someone in Peaster or LaJunta to get it done.”
The mayor, again, is not accurate in his assessment. The board has guaranteed an Aledo seat immediately – no other ESD has done that. Also, two of the existing board members are tied to the Aledo community. That is more representation than you will get with any other ESD. The board member from Peaster has proven to be a thoughtful person who has the entire district’s needs at heart – not just Peaster. That is true of all the board members. LaJunta does not have representation on the board at this time. The mayor is making statements that he feels will sway votes – even if there is no truth to them. He has been “educated” but continues to make those statements. As an example, he was reminded last Wednesday that HB 1798 has been dead for six weeks yet continues to use that as a talking point.
“I would prefer to see this vote fail and allow the East Parker County cities to coordinate and plan for our future without having to fight Springtown or some other city for our needs. I have been in negotiations with the mayors of the three Annettas for some time now in order to meet the needs of our citizens. Needs that, quite frankly, are not the same as other areas in the proposed newer, larger ESD 1. We believe in local control and we just have nothing but unenforceable promises from AVFD and ESD 1 at this point.”
I personally resent the fact that the mayor questions the integrity of the Aledo VFD and the ESD 1 board. The VFD is asking citizens they have served for decades for free, to help provide a dependable revenue stream so they can do the work at hand – provide emergency services. I also resent the fact that his information is not factual. The Aledo VFD knows how to best provide for emergency services to the citizens in the large Aledo District. While the ESD welcomes input from all citizens in the district, the mission is to do what is best to provide emergency services not bend to the political whims of politicians. This, sometimes, can be a daunting task!
While I know my letter has been somewhat lengthy, it is important that our community knows the FACTS about the Annexation issue and that YOUR fire department has and will continue to support the community with all of the professionalism and integrity that they have showed for the last 60 plus years. Please get out and vote and show your support FOR those that have supported you!
Juston Stelzer is president of the Aledo Volunteer Fire Department and a Deer Creek resident.