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Early voting approaches on ESD proposals

October 5, 2018

Early voting starts Oct. 22 for ballot proposals to create two districts outside Pearland that could levy a property tax to contract fire and emergency services.

“They’re excited it’s on the ballot and they have some control,” Leshan Jayasekera, who lives in the Silverlake area that would form Emergency Services District No. 5, said of neighbors as the Nov. 6 election approaches.

Together, the areas proposed for ESD No. 5 and Emergency Services District No. 4 are home to about 8,000 registered voters, some of whom were vocal in opposing Pearland’s 2017 annexation of their property ahead of a state law that went into effect Dec. 1 requiring certain cities to get voters’ consent in targeted areas.

The city canceled the annexations in March and approved elections for the EMS district propositions in August.

Pearland officials had determined that the city could not afford to keep footing the bill for ETJ emergency services without payment and had only done so on the assumption that the areas would eventually be annexed, City Councilman Trent Perez said.

Some of the residents in what would become ESD No. 5 had been unaware of the Dec. 31 deadline when the city would stop providing emergency services if a contract for reimbursement wasn’t achieved, Jayasekera said.

He described residents’ reaction “shock, betrayal and determination.”

“We have a chance for Pearland to come up with a local solution,” said Jayasekera, who also is a candidate for Brazoria County Justice of the Peace, Precinct 2, Place 2 who is challenging incumbent Richard B. Davis. “I think it will pass.”

If established, the districts could levy property taxes of up to 10 cents per $100 valuation to fund emergency medical service, fire facilities and personnel or to cover costs to contract those services. Brazoria County Commissioners Court would appoint governing boards.

If the districts win voter approval, funding for them would not be available through tax revenues until 2019.

Following approval of the districts, the city would continue to provide emergency services to those areas while negotiations take place between the districts and the provider they wish to contract, City Manager Clay Pearson said

The city has calculated that neither proposed district could garner enough revenue for Pearland to cover costs to provide contracted emergency services. The city is not obligated to agree to a contract if the districts are created.

For example, the city estimates the cost to provide emergency services to ESD No. 5 at $711,000, with potential revenue of $614,000 if the district is formed and taxed at the maximum level.

Brazoria County lists 3,942 registered voters in ESD No. 5, which consists of 923 acres in the Silverlake area between Texas 288 and Cullen Boulevard and would include municipal utility districts 2 and 3. ESD No. 4 has 4,091 registered voters in a 6,400-acre area along the southern edge of Pearland.

The annexations caused a backlash from county residents and lawsuits and were repealed in March after Brazoria County District Attorney Jeri Yenne issued a written reprimand saying the city’s procedures had not been lawful.

The ESD propositions made it on the ballot after residents in those areas circulated petitions, which were validated by County Commissioners Court and Pearland City Council gave final approval.

Jaimy.jones@chron.com

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