Weatherford Democrat

December 14, 2012

Election ordered after fire district accepts Aledo VFD


Weatherford Democrat

— By JUDY SHERIDAN

jsheridan@weatherforddemocrat.com

A petition to join Emergency Services District No. 1 — signed by almost 100 voters in Aledo Volunteer Fire Department’s fire district — won support from the Parker County Emergency Services District No. 1 board Tuesday, which voted 4-0 to accept the petition and put the issue on the ballot in May for residents of both the ESD and Aledo’s fire district to decide.

Board president Rena Peden and members Bob Wershay, Brian Sexton and Mark Jack voted in favor of the motion, which was made by Wershey and seconded by Jack. Board member Saxton Bailey was absent.

“I believe in allowing people to make decisions for themselves,” Peden said. “This may pass or this may fail, but I believe it is up to the people to decide whether they want to join this ESD.”

Mona Fields, who lives on Underwood Road in Annetta North, was the only one to speak against the proposed annexation. Describing herself as a longtime community member and active donor, Fields said she didn’t understand why Aledo VFD officials chose to affiliate with ESD No. 1 instead of forming their own ESD.

“If we join ESD 1, we don’t have any say on who’s on the board; we don’t know any of the people on the board, so we don’t know who to talk to about our concerns; and beyond that ... we’re giving ESD 1 a slush fund of between a half million and $650,000; that’s a lot of money to turn over to anybody.”

Fields contended that the large amount of ta revenue to be raised in Aledo — estimated to be about $1 million — wouldn’t return to the Aledo area, but would instead pay for improvements for the Springtown, Silver Creek and Peaster fire departments, other members of ESD No. 1’s 200-square-mile district, located mainly in northeast Parker County.

Officials worked to allay Field’s concerns.

Lt. Nick Walker, Aledo VFD’s public information officer, told Fields that department officials had thoroughly investigated creating their own ESD. 

“The problem we ran into was because of Fort Worth’s annexation process and their ETJ, they will not play ball with us at all,” he said. “The only way we could create a tax base was to join an existing ESD. We may be offering $1 million to the ESD, but we’re already in talks with the ESD about plans to spend that money back into our own area for substations and new trucks.”

“I would rebut that by saying there are no guarantees going forward that will happen,” Fields replied. “Once you put that money in the district, it’s the district’s to do with what they want to. So you may have great faith; I don’t have so much.”

Peden said the board had talked about Aledo having representation on the ESD No. 1 board. “We have guaranteed Aledo representation,” she said, “so we do have someone who will speak for your area.”

Peden later said her term will expire in a year, and she has agreed to defer to someone from Aledo if needed to ensure the area of representation. Board members are appointed to two- or three-year terms by Parker County commissioners. The court recently appointed Justin McKinley, of Peaster, to a two-year term and reappointed Jack and Wershay.

The board has “made some commitments” to the Aledo VFD, Peden said. “You’re going to need additional stations ... We’re talking about hundreds of households across from the high school; you’ve got a large area south of Aledo ... We’re planning for those in the future.”

Parker County is getting out of the business of subsidizing fire departments, Peden said, and most have joined or created ESDs. She cited Millsap’s recent successful petition for inclusion into ESD No. 7 and the new ESD created by Adell/Whitt and Central Community departments.

“There is a general recognition out there that if we want to continue providing good fire and emergency services to the citizens, we’re going to have to figure out how we’re going to pay for those services. The state created this as a way to do it,” she said, alluding to the tax of 10 cents per $100 property valuation that ESDs are permitted to levy. 

ESD No. 1, the first and largest in the county, has been financially stable for some time, she said, and will be able to provide a fulltime mechanic and shop, as well as help with administration.

“We hope we will provide services to the Aledo area that people will feel are of value,” she said.

Fire Chief Morris Leondar, a member of Aledo VFD for 17 years, said he was excited about getting involved with ESD No. 1 and continuing the department’s heritage of service to the community.

Father Jay Atwood, chaplain of Aledo VFD, gave a presentation that included the department’s 60-year history and statistics, as well as an inventory of its two stations, equipment and apparatus: two engines, three brush trucks, one tanker, one rescue unit and two command vehicles. 

Atwood said Aledo VFD responds to 750 calls annually — almost 800 this year — protecting 12,000 residents in Aledo, the Annettas and unincorporated areas of Parker and Tarrant Counties.

The area to be annexed follows the boundaries of the department’s fire district, which extends north to Farmer Road and one mile south of FM 1886, south almost to U.S. Highway 377 and McDaniel Road, west to Bear Creek Road, almost to FM 51, and east as far as the I-20/I-30 split.

“The Aledo Fire Department, with full support of the City of Aledo, Parker County, several local civic groups and numerous homeowner associations, is poised for diligent cooperation and transparent follow-through upon the order of this public hearing and the conducting of the election by Parker County ESD No. 1,” Atwood said.