Orange County Emergency Serivce Districts could face changes on how their board of commissioners is chosen if Senate Bill 1265 passes in the near future.

Currently, members of an emergency services district board are nominated by the commissioner of their presiding precinct and then approved by the commissioners court of the county in which the ESD is located within.  The Orange County Commissioners Court believes that the process for choosing ESD board members should rest upon the people being served within the precincts.  C.S.S.B. 1265 changes current statute to make ESD board members in Orange County elected rather than appointed, according to the Texas Legislature online.

“Senate Bill 1265 will ensure members of the Emergency Service District (ESD) Board be chosen by the people they serve. Giving Orange County citizens the ability to vote for these important positions is an excellent example of the democratic process. As you may know, ESDs are taxing entities and therefore should be elected, “ said Senator Robert Nichols.

David Roberts, fire chief of the McLewis Fire Department,  opposes the changes.

“It’s not going to be a good thing,” Roberts said.

ESD 4 already struggles to keep the fire department afloat.

Roberts added, the McLewis and Mauriceville fire departments will merge and together serve as ESD 4. The remainder, Vidor – ESD 1, Bridge City – ESD 2, and Little Cypress -ESD 3 will remain the same.

“It’s hard enough to find someone to do  it free,” Roberts said. “New people who have had to pay for their campaign, may have to recoup their money by charging the ESD to attend meetings.”

Becky Buffington, district administrator for ESD 2, said she too is opposed to the bill which is slated to only affect Orange County.

However, Bridge City will be able to afford the costs associated with an election. But, is concerned with smaller districts.

“By statute an ESD commissioner can make up to $3,000 per year,” Buffington said.

In addition, by law the board has to have five members who live within the district, she said.

Another issue Buffington brought to light is the fact the ESD 2 board is mostly made up of former firefighters who have a grasp of what it takes to run a fire department. Those who have not had any training may not realize the costs of fire trucks and equipment.

“We are not for it either,” Buffington said of the bill.

The bill is expected to pass and take effect Sept. 1.

According to Buffington, this would force the ESD to hold an election by the end of the year for the seats.

The bill states, “The changes in law made by this Act do not affect the entitlement of a commissioner of a board of emergency services commissioners serving on the board immediately before the effective date of this Act to continue to carry out the board’s functions for the remainder of the commissioner’s term.”

Section B is “This Act does not prohibit a person who is a commissioner on the effective date of this Act and who was appointed under Section 775.034, Health and Safety Code, from running for election to the board if the person has the qualifications required for a member.”

Section C is  “A person serving as a member of a board of emergency services commissioners on the effective date of this Act who was appointed shall continue to serve until the election and qualification of a new commissioner for that position.”

Furthermore, the bills states, in 2014, “the county judge of a county with an emergency services district shall establish an election to replace a commissioner appointed before the effective date of this Act as near as practicable to the date of the expiration of the appointed commissioner’s term.  A commissioner elected under this subsection serves a two-year term but the successor serves a four-year term.”

According to Buffington, the public hearing on the matter has already occurred and all they can do is hope for the best.