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First time for possible hike since 1981
Voters in Frio County could be asked to consider a property and sales tax increase to help provide additional funding for the Emergency Service District (ESD) for the first time in 40 years.
According to ESD Finance Administrator Denise Woody, the entity is contemplating an election to increase the property tax rate from $0.03 per hundred dollars of appraised value to the statutory maximum of ten cents per hundred dollars and an election to consider collecting a sales tax of $0.015 in the unincorporated areas of Frio County.
“We have the ability to go up to ten cents,” ESD Attorney Woody Wilson said during a Monday, December 13, meeting. “The majority of the surrounding ESDs go to the approved rate of ten cents. This is the only ESD that has a three-cent rule imposed; there is no need for voter approval.”
Wilson said he knows the limitations that the minimal collection of ad valorem taxes imposes on county residents.
“Citizens rely on first responders to respond to calls within the county and accidents on freeway and highway,” Wilson said. “Sometimes there is a difficulty because [the county is] strictly volunteers; other ESDs have paid firefighters. Frio relies a lot on volunteers. We appreciate the availability of the citizens that still go to work and take the calls. They sacrifice work to respond to calls.”
Rural Fire Protection Districts (RFPD) were created in 1949 by the Texas Constitution and allowed for a property tax rate of $0.03 to be assessed. In November 1981, voters in Frio County created an RFPD and the following year assessed the three-cent tax. ESDs were created in 1987 and allowed for a property tax rate of ten cents per hundred dollars of appraised value.
In 2003, all RFPDs became ESDs.
According to Woody, the current ESD budget is $609,312 and the budgeted operating cost for the fiscal year is $141,312. Each respective department will receive $117,000, which represents a decrease from $125,000 last fiscal year.
The county purchased its first fire truck for $30,438 in 1982. A financial report provided by Woody shows a 2023 pumper truck will cost $482,039 today.
The cities of Pearsall and Dilley provide financial assistance to the fire departments, thereby helping offset operating costs. The Moore VFD accepts donations and bills clients’ insurance policies; the Bigfoot VFD accepts donations and holds an annual barbecue fundraiser.
“Finances are reimbursed,” the fiance administrator said of ESD operations. “The fire departments have to pay the bill, then they come to us and ask the ESD for reimbursement.”
Should the tax rate be imposed, she said, the average household will pay $8.33 per month for yearly coverage.
“We need the support of commissioners,” Wilson said. “So you will be able to tell people why this is a good thing. Also, it will help with insurance rates.”
In her presentation, Woody said there were 625 calls for service in 2020 and 2021 has seen 702 service calls.
Frio County currently has 58 active firefighters.
Informational meetings are slated to be held before regular meetings each month for the next four months, allowing residents to ask questions and address concerns. Those meetings will be held in Dilley in January, Moore February, Pearsall in March, and Bigfoot in April.
“We need to approve an election order,” Wilson said. “Then enter an election contract with the county to hold the election. For the sales tax, the election will be held in unincorporated areas of the county.”