West Odessans consider creating their own city and other ways to get resources
West Odessa is one of the largest communities in West Texas but it’s unincorporated, meaning it's largely ungoverned and doesn’t have access services most cities have.
The community has been a haven for people who want to live with as few rules as possible, but that comes at a price — like not enough resources for their volunteer fire department and access to timely emergency services.
Now Ector County Judge Dustin Fawcett is trying to help residents figure out how to access more funding for its fire department and EMS. One option he believes is viable: West Odessa formally incorporating as a city.
Last week, he held a town hall in the unincorporated community, where around 100 West Odessans turned out to discuss creating a city and other options.
Marfa Public Radio’s Mitch Borden sat down with Fawcett to discuss the town hall and the future of West Odessa. Below is a synopsis of their conversation.
The people who make up West Odessa.
West Odessa is a community that formed right outside of Odessa’s city limits. It is an unincorporated area where the population has boomed in recent years. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, between 2010 and 2020, the area’s population grew by over 10,000 people.
Fawcett describes residents as “a mosaic of freedom seeking folks.” Including some who, he says, “are anti-government to an extent, and other folks who just want to be left alone, and have as little taxes as possible.”
Over the years, the community has developed a distinct look as more people moved to the area.
“Right next door, you could have a brand new development with a million dollar house,” Fawcett explained, “And right next to that you could have essentially a mini trailer park with 10 chihuahuas and some pit bulls running around.”
Long waits and limited resources could cost lives.
Residents in West Odessa face a lot of challenges, but Fawcett believes getting the community a more robust fire department and reliable EMS tops the list.
West Odessa does have a volunteer fire department, but the community is often forced to rely on the City of Odessa’s fire department. The closest ambulance service is also in Odessa, which, according to Fawcett, can mean long wait times that may be costing lives.
“What if there's a multiple-level fire alarm where we have all of our west side stations trying to put out a fire in a commercial building. And then we have a horrific accident in West Odessa. Who's gonna show up — I don't know”
Fawcett believes that the community needs to at least establish an emergency services district, which would allow the community to raise funds through taxes to fund fire and other emergency services.
“These folks, they think they don't want taxes, but then they're gonna die out there whenever no one can come respond to them,” he said.
West Odessans have to choose what they want
Residents asked at the recent town hall why Ector County can't use the taxes they already pay to take care of the problems the community is facing. According to Fawcett, “We would love to do that, but we have limited budgets.”
He explained that it’s not the county’s responsibility to fund fire and EMS.
“Counties aren't meant to provide those services,” said Fawcett. “It's really up to a municipal organization or an emergency service district to do so. So those tax dollars have to come from the citizens if they want those services.”
Even though people were leery at first, he’s confident West Odessans will establish an emergency services district and may some day incorporate.
“The takeaway from [the town hall] was people are interested,” Fawcett said.
He believes most people at the recent town hall want more information, so he’s planning on holding more public meetings later this year looking at West Odessa’s needs and how locals can begin the process of establishing an emergency services district or incorporate.