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From the “You get what you pay for” department

I have a hard time wrapping my mind around this story about the struggle of suburban fire departments to provide services for residents who don’t want to pay for them. I just don’t understand the mindset.

Montgomery County ESD No. 8, which operates Hudson’s fire department, is considering asking voters to approve a 1-cent sales tax in May to help pay for its new station and to hire additional firefighters. It has applied for a federal grant that will pay the salaries of three new firefighters for two to three years. Once the grant dollars run out, the department will have to find a way to carry the cost. The salary for a full-time firefighter ranges from $30,000 to $43,000 in ESDs, about half the pay of a municipal firefighter, and part-time firefighters make between $10 and $21 an hour.

Many suburban fire departments are supported by emergency service districts, a taxing entity. The districts, however, are limited in how much property tax they can collect. They’re capped at 10 cents per $100 per assessed value.

“It’s literally a small amount of the overall property tax system,” said Fred Windisch, fire chief for the Ponderosa Fire Department in north Harris County. “We’re less than community colleges, MUDs and school districts.”


Fire departments that are entirely run by volunteers, and not under an emergency service district, rely on donations and a funding from the county. The Fresno Volunteer Fire Department in Fort Bend County, for example, receives about $80,000 a year from the county and the rest of its $100,000 budget is gathered through fundraisers and donations, said Fire Chief Paul Hamilton.


Last weekend, a Fresno homeowner lost his home because volunteer firefighters never responded to the early morning fire. The Missouri City Fire Department was eventually dispatched but firefighters arrived too late to save the home.

“We’re talking about some changes to try to prevent this from happening, but until we have an ESD so we can have paid firefighters, we’re at the mercy of volunteers,” said Hamilton, who was out of the district when the fire broke out.

Persuading residents to approve establishing a taxing district would be difficult because they already feel they’re overtaxed, he said.

I don’t even know what to say to that. I guess this is one of many reasons why I prefer city life to unincorporated suburban life. I like knowing that if my house ever catches fire, it’s somebody’s job to come as quickly as possible to put it out.

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