County pushing for control of Emergency Services District

State bill would push for more county control

County Emergency Services

El Paso, Texas - In 2012 the Emergency Services District came under fire.

Carlos Sandoval who, at that time, served as the board president, was under investigation by the El Paso County Sheriff's department.  The purchase of a county vehicle by a fire chief was questioned and audits raised red flags.

The Emergency Services District No. 2 (ESD No.2) was under the microscope, and on Monday El Paso County's Judge made a point to tell everyone she never wants to see it happen again.

"You all read the headlines, you read the audits I'm sure," said Escobar. "Its been the discussion a lot here in court."

Since issues arose, a lot has changed within ESD No. 2. New members have joined the board that governs it and West Valley Fire Chief Bill Adler now heads up ESD No.2. He told ABC-7 that every issue that arose under the past administration has been addressed, and that many changes have been put in place.

"The best thing I can say is that we've addressed the issues, and every issue brought back by the county audit has been wrapped up by new policies and procedures to ensure this never happens again," said Adler.

While things have changed Escobar's stance on the need for more oversight has not.

Since last fall, Escobar has said the ESD departments in El Paso County need more accountability. Now, a bill is set to be pushed in the state's Capitol to give that power to Commissioners Court.

Escobar said the bill will be pushed by state Rep. Marisa Marquez, the same woman who helped push for a similar transparency bill for University Medical Center. It would empower the county to oversee budgets and major expenses on all business relating to the Emergency Services district, which offers ambulance and fire department services for county areas.

"There are no protections in place for the taxpayer, and the only way you can protect the taxpayer is by putting incredible transparency in place," said Escobar.

The move has rubbed ESD board members the wrong way. Since news began to trickle down to them, they've held a joint meeting between ESD No. 1 and ESD No. 2.

Adler said the biggest issue he has is the misdirection. During a County Commissioners court meeting in November, commissioners applauded the changes that took effect, now he's questioning why commissioners would be asking for legislative help to govern them.

One point of contention lies with the fact that the state bill, if approved as it is written, would only apply to El Paso county. Since ESDs across the state would likely fight a statewide bill, the county is only asking for authority of this nature be granted in El Paso county. Adler said it would cause every action to be double-checked by Commissioners, but Escobar counters that it would only involve major decisions and that it protects them against future issues beyond the scope of the current ESD board members terms end.

Whether the bill will pass has yet to be seen. At this time bills are not being debated during the beginning portion of the Texas state legislative session.

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