Athens Review, Athens, Texas

February 26, 2013

Set for a vote

County sets ESD elections

Rich Flowers
The Athens Review

FORNEY — \

The Henderson County Commissioners Court set May 11 elections for two proposed emergency services districts on the east side of the county.

Voters in the Westside Volunteer Fire Department area on the west side of Lake Palestine will decide whether to create ESD No. 6. The territory served by the Murchison Volunteer Fire Department will cast ballots on whether to launch ESD 8.

Emergency services districts are political subdivisions of the state entrusted with providing emergency medical and fire services to many unincorporated areas.

During a public hearing on whether to set boundaries for ESD 6, Westside Volunteer Fire Department Chief Doug Nicholson said help is needed to raise revenues to build a second fire station. That station could respond in parts of the district that are blocked by portions of the lake.

“About 20 percent of our boundaries are covered by water,” Nicholson said. “There’s a big issue there as far as response time.”

In November 2011, voters defeated ESD 6  by a 49-41 count.

In other action, Commiss-ioners voted to accept the Fiscal Year 2013 Indigent Defense Formula Grant. The county’s share of the grant funds is $67,511. Jennifer Nicholson, who coordinates grants for the auditor’s office, said the total is a big jump from 2012. Despite the increase, Precinct 2 County Commissioner Wade McKinney said the funds are a drop in the bucket compared with the amount the county spends.

According to the Texas Fair Defense Act, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1963 that indigent persons accused of a crime in a state court have the right to court-appointed counsel. Texas funneled the responsibility down to the counties to help supply legal counsel for indigent defense.

“They have shortchanged the counties for years,” McKinney said. “It’s a major unfunded mandate.”

Nicholson said the state has helped offset some of Henderson County’s spike in indigent defense costs through equalization payments. The equalization payments are intended to help counties with the largest percentage increases in indigent defense costs. Last year, Henderson County’s total of grant funds and equalization payments was about $61,000.

Commissioners also voted to:

• sell a 1991 Chevrolet dump truck to the City of Payne Springs for $7,500;

• accept a $1,000 donation for the Henderson County Clint Murchison Library;

• approve a proclamation setting March 2 as Texas Independence Day; and

• authorized payment of bills in the amount of $477,900.66.