BLANCO COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — Administrative issues between a volunteer fire department and an ESD board led to the end of a service contract last week.

North Blanco County Emergency Services District No. 1 commissioners voted to discontinue its contract Sept. 19 with the Johnson City Volunteer Fire Department. Meeting minutes show the decision was unanimous. 

In a statement, ESD 1 said the reasons for the cancellation “are many and varied.” It said the ESD board has requested information on corporate and operational aspects of the VFD, but responses have been “delayed or incomplete and some have gone unanswered.” 

The Johnson City VFD shared a statement Friday. It outlined issues between the entities and said, “The ESD board members’ decision flies directly in the face of their duty to provide the best emergency response for the taxpayers.”

Both the JCVFD and ESD board said the decision to end the contract was based on administrative issues, not the fire department’s service.

Board President David O’Bannon said the issues included disagreement over titles of the trucks, communication issues and bookkeeping issues.

O’Bannon said after a 90-day notice period, a new fire department group will be formed with a battalion fire chief and another firefighter with EMT training. He said current JCVFD firefighters are welcome to join the new entity, which will cover the same area as the Johnson City VFD.

“Our issues are not with the firefighters themselves. The entire board is very happy with the job that these guys do out in the field,” O’Bannon said. “We welcome any and all of them to be part of the new organization, because they do a good job.”

The VFD serves 4,000 people in about a 600-square-mile area in north Blanco County. JCVFD responded to about 400 calls last year including fires, rescues, traffic injuries and other call types.

“It is our (the ESD’s) responsibility to assure competent and comprehensive fire services, and we have lost our confidence in the leadership and management of the JCVFD to serve you, the public,” the statement said. 

JCVFD firefighter and spokesperson Sam Richardson said JCVFD did not have an opportunity to talk with the board at the meeting before the vote to end the contract was made. He said the relationship between the two entities has degraded in recent years.

“At some point, this issue has become more political than not,” Richardson said. “And, frankly, that shouldn’t endanger people’s lives and safety.”

The VFD plans to continue its service, as it did before the ESD was created, but it will need to make changes. The fire department has other mutual aid agreements with other agencies including Stonewall Fire Department and Johnson City. The VFD was formed in 1949, and the ESD was later created in 1972.

Private donations fund about one-third of the VFD, Richardson said. ESD funding has provided some of the costly expenses for the VFD including insurance and several trucks, Richardson said. He said the ESD funding assures apparatuses can be replaced and consistency in property tax income.

“Through private donations, through the support of the community, JCVFD, Inc. will continue to be able to provide those fire rescue services to the community,” Richardson said.

The board president said the ESD plans to hold community meetings to address issues and questions from the public. He expects the first meeting to be in October.

“It’s our responsibility to do that, and we’re doing our best to provide that information to them,” O’Bannon said.

What are ESDs?

Emergency service districts, or ESDs, are political subdivisions that can provide fire protection, emergency medical services or both, according to the Texas State Association of Fire and Emergency Districts. They are governed by five commissioners who are appointed by the county commissioners court. ESDs are funded through property taxes and can also collect sales tax.

The association said ESDs vary in how they provide services. While some ESDs contract services, others may provide services themselves and manage day-to-day services.