Liberty County has four emergency service districts. Unlike volunteer fire departments, an emergency service district is a governmental entity entrusted with taxpayer money and must follow certain codes when it does business.
The citizens of the area in 1982, by vote of the people, created RFPD No. 7, which was a rural fire prevention district. At that time the Hardin Volunteer Fire Department was struggling to pay for the Hardin Fire Station. A volunteer fire department does not receive tax revenue and must raise funds through fundraisers and donations. During the early 80’s the economy was down and so were donations.
By creating the RFPD the citizens of Hardin and surrounding areas were able to keep the fire department operating. A few years later the legislature converted all RFPDs to what is now known as Emergency Service Districts. We are known as Liberty County Emergency Service District No.7. While our funding comes from tax revenue it is important to remember that we must strictly follow the government codes when we spend funds.
The average after hours response time from Station 1 in Hardin to Moss Hill proper is 13 minutes from the time the department is toned out. During the day, the response time is 7 minutes or less with our paid staff on standby. We do continually monitor this and response time was a major metric in our decision to employ a full time chief and daytime staff.
We believe with the growth coming and the number of citizens in the Moss Hill area, that a fire station is warranted to serve them quicker and also have a place where the citizens in the north portion of the district can volunteer their service and have community activities. That being said, the Moss Hill station is still the top priority for our five-year plan.
The cost to build a government property has grown exponentially the past three years. Progress on the Moss Hill Fire station is moving forward, but at a much slower pace than the ESD Board of Commissioners wanted. Initially a budget of $1 million was allocated to build the station for around $400k and purchase a fire engine for $600k. Two years ago, the ESD took sealed bids for architects and started the design phase of the building as required by our Texas Local Government Code. The initial architect retainer was $20,000 dollars. The architect was retained and began to do his job and start the process of designing the fire station for the ESD.
The initial required design for a rural station came in at $1.6 million dollars. The ESD Board of Commissioners was very surprised. The costs the engineers, architects, and lawyers submitted was way over budget in the ESD’s opinion. Even though the property was donated by a local businessman and past firefighter, Bill Wingfield, the value of the lot was minimal in their overall plans. Before any construction can take place, the entire lot must be raised 3 feet to meet code. That cost alone is over $96,000. The ESD has working with the county at the new sheriff’s office to get that dirt for free, but the transportation costs were too high. The county is still working with us to find a way to get the dirt.
We have been working with lawyers, auditors, and the county team for six months on that. It takes time to build a building with government requirements. We must go thorough the same process as a school district or the county. The ESD and taxpayers simply could not afford the costs as submitted for the requirements the government put on us as an ESD. We are considering all options, including finding a parcel of land that is higher or even an existing building that could be renovated.
The ESD has been, for the past two years, working with architects, attorneys, and engineers to find a way forward that is cost effective and feasible to get a station in Moss Hill. We have not given up, but the cost has put up a large roadblock to our communities’ goals. ESD 7 has kept our property tax rate at 3 cents while most ESDs get 10 cents of property tax. The ESD7 Board of Commissioners refuses to raise taxes on property owners in this district.
The ESD receives around $95,000 per year from property tax revenue. The district receives another $264k from sales tax to fund operations and purchases. Liability Insurance alone on the equipment and personnel cost $32k a year. Just like families that must make sacrifices within their budget, so does your local ESD Board of Commissioners. The ESD has budgeted savings every year for this project and will continue to do so. The land option expires at the end of five years, but the ESD is moving forward.
In the interim, we have to continue funding our day-to-day operations. We have been having maintenance issues with our fire engine. While used engines are in the $100k range, we were lucky to come across a combination pumper and aerial truck for $40k, and yes, it did have a ladder on it. We did that to buy us a few more years before we needed to pursue further debt. The engine mentioned was purchased to also help lower fire insurance rates for our citizens.
All the while, the ESD has been paying down debt and saving money to hopefully pay more in cash for these two large items. Revenues from the sales tax will go to service these expenses. We are looking at all options except tax increases to get a station in Moss Hill.
The county judge, commissioners and the ESD do communicate openly regarding growth in the area. If a large developer moves into the area in the future, the County and ESD will work to have the development assist with fire service funding for facilities, so the burden does not land on the ESD7 taxpayers.
If you have any further questions regarding this update, ESD meetings are every month on the 4th Wednesday of each month at 5:30pm. Meetings are open and the public is encouraged to come. You can find all budgets, meetings, and information at www.lcesd7.org.
Liberty County ESD 7 Board of Commissioners