The Political Context of Emergency Services Districts in Texas
Rausch, John David Jr.
Rausch, Mary Scanlon
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Special purpose districts are the most numerous units of government in Texas. There are approximately 3,350 special districts in Texas, divided into 40 different types. Special districts exist locally and provide infrastructure and deliver specific services, like firefighting, road construction, and water treatment. While the powers of special districts vary based on type and location, they may impose property taxes and sales taxes as well as issue bonds and sue and be sued. This paper examines emergency services districts (ESDs). ESDs can provide fire protection, emergency medical services, or both. The districts are created through a grassroots effort that starts when a petition signed by at least 100 voters is presented to the County Commissioners Court in the county in which the ESD is to be created. The Commissioners Court determines the feasibility of the request and calls an election for voter approval of the district. Approximately 93 of Texas’s 254 counties have at least one ESD. The present research considers the political environment of those counties who have created ESDs compared to the counties without ESDs. The political variables are subjected to a statistical analysis. We then present case studies examining the experiences of two counties to illustrate how the political variables work together to create or defeat ESDs. This research suggests that the creation of ESDs primarily is the result of politics in the individual county.