A petition to start an emergency services district in the Plum Grove area was shut down Tuesday by the Liberty County Commissioners Court. Pct. 3 Commissioner David Whitmire was the only commissioner in favor of the ESD being placed on the May election ballot.
County Judge Jay Knight called for a second to Whitmire’s motion – three times – but the motion died for a lack of a second.
The three other commissioners – Bruce Karbowski, Greg Arthur and Leon Wilson – felt that creation of the ESD was not necessary for the health and safety of the residents of that area and that residents will be better served by Municipal Management District No. 1, which was created by Colony Ridge developer Trey Harris.
Had commissioners consented to the ESD election and voters then approved it, the ESD would have collected $0.06 per $100 valuation on properties within the district. For a $100,000 property, it would have been the equivalent of $60 additional tax dollars for the ESD. The MMD has collected $0.36 per $100 valuation of properties since 2017.
The petition was proven to be valid and legal, and survived a review by the Liberty County Attorney’s Office and the Elections Administrator’s Office. It had the appropriate amount of signatures from registered voters who live within the proposed district who wanted an opportunity to vote on the ESD, which ultimately may have benefitted Plum Grove Volunteer Fire Department through additional funding.
“The commissioners court has the ability to review whether or not they believe the addition of an ESD is necessary and would make the community safer,” said County Attorney Matthew Poston.
Plum Grove Fire Chief Brandon Frazier, who spoke at the commissioners court meeting, argued that the residents should not be denied the opportunity to vote on a valid petition.
“If the petition is found to be in working order, then the people have the right to say, ‘Hey, this is what I want or don’t want. If they say they don’t want it, then fair enough; it was their decision. If they say they do want it, then it gets to move forward,” Frazier said. “I am asking everyone involved in this situation today to please remember that and help support people having a decision on these things.”
One issue that weighed against the petition was that the MMD already collects ad valorem taxes on tens of thousands of properties within the proposed ESD boundaries. This would have resulted in a double taxation for property owners. Harris argued that the proposed ESD’s lines were drawn to include the MMD.
“There are over 30,000 different property owners in the MMD. The bulk of those property owners have recently purchased property and do not reside there yet and haven’t had the opportunity to vote, so the fallacy of the argument is to let the people vote,” Harris said.
However, there is no guarantee that those property owners will choose to build on their properties or if they are even eligible to vote. In the last election for Cleveland ISD’s bond in November 2021, 57 voters cast ballots at the Santa Fe Administration Building inside the Colony Ridge voting location. Almost as many other people attempted to vote in that election at that same polling place but were denied due to a lack of citizenship.
The vote for the petition came just days after Plum Grove volunteer firefighters plucked stranded motorists from flooded roadways leading through Plum Grove and into the Colony Ridge communities and four years after the creation of the MMD.
The vote on Tuesday appears to have prompted some discussion between the County, Plum Grove VFD and the Colony Ridge developer about what is needed for fire service to ensure the safety of citizens and properties. Harris told commissioners he foresees the need for four fire stations within his communities.
In other business, commissioners court:
- approved a request from Liberty County District Attorney Jennifer Bergman Harkness to give $1,500 to the 2022 training budgets of Cleveland, Dayton and Liberty police departments, and all six of the constable’s offices in the county;
- approved the purchase and installation of Hunter Douglas blinds for all three district attorney offices to be paid from the department’s Special Investigative Funds in the amount of $12,594;
- approved the Liberty County Jail to purchase additional camera systems from the MTS Montgomery Technology Systems LLC at a cost of $26,900;
- approved a preliminary plat approval for Encino Estates Section 5 in Dayton. This plat is for 155 lots with each measuring at slightly more than a half-acre;
- approved the reappointment of Mark Neil, Ritchie Ewing and Klint Bush to the ESD #7 Board for two-year terms; and
- approved the District Attorney’s Office to pay for a mobile command unit to assist all law enforcement agencies to perform their essential work remotely in the field.