Fire district sets 2018-19 budget

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Sabine firefighters are putting specially-earmarked taxpayer dollars to use in Gregg County’s second emergency services district.

The board of ESD No. 2 gathered at Sabine Fire Department’s Wilkins Road station Tuesday evening, poised for approval of the district’s tax rate, unchanged at the maximum of 10-cents per $100 valuation.

Voters approved the district in November 2014, and it began receiving tax revenue the following year. Currently, with certified values of more than $403 million within ESD No. 2, revenues are approximately $403,032.

The lion’s share of those tax revenues is invested in SFD: last month, for example, 85 percent of about $26,000 in ESD expenses went to the former volunteer fire department (which now boasts three paid staffers).

With revenue-support, SFD Chief Richard Sisk says, the department has been able to enhance both its assets and its responsiveness.

“The taxpayers’ money has been put to good use with upgrading our equipment,” he said. “We have been able to focus on training. We have been able to build mutual aid relationships even stronger,” responding to incidents in Kilgore, Gladewater, White Oak, Warren City and elsewhere as necessary.

“When we show up on scene, we have some of the most reliable equipment this department’s ever had, and our trucks have more capability to extinguish all types of fires. We’re getting to where we’re self-sufficient, and our response times have reduced dramatically.”

Previously, it took an average of 22 minutes to get Sabine volunteers firefighters on scene – since getting a revenue stream, they’ve cut the gap to nine minutes, with paid personnel and their equipment often arriving on a call within a minute or two, holding things down while volunteer reinforcements head that way.

Meanwhile, call volume has doubled, Sisk added, and the department now averages about 360 calls per year.

SFD’s payroll includes the chief (on-call 24/7) plus two fulltime firefighters on the clock 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, supported by volunteers.

Bounded by Kilgore and Gladewater, the Smith County line and a similar fire district in Rusk County, ESD No. 2 boasts about 6,400 residents within more than 39 square-miles.

“We’ve had significant growth,” Sisk added. “Homes are being built at a phenomenal rate.”

ESD No. 2’s Board of Commissioners includes president Greg Colquitt, vice president Mike Clements and secretary/treasurer Gina DeHoyos alongside Daniel Patterson and Clyde Willoughby.

In addition to consideration and adoption of the district’s 2018-2019 budget and tax rate Tuesday, the board members were set for an update on anticipated improvements and expansions within the district.

According to Colquitt, “It’s worked out pretty well for the ESD as a whole as well as the community.”

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