TRAVIS COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — This November, taxpayers in Northwest Travis County will decide if they want to pay more for better fire and medical emergency services.
Emergency Services District 1 serves about 170 square miles, with just seven to nine firefighters per shift, operating on a funding model they say isn’t keeping up with growth.
Now Travis County Commissioners have approved an item on the November ballot that could create a new overlay emergency services district, ESD 7. The new district would serve the same areas as ESD 1, but would focus on medical services.
“Because our mission has changed and now we’re 80 percent EMS, and 20 percent of our calls are fire, we’re dedicated all of our funding to the EMS mission, which is very costly,” said ESD 1 Chief, Donnie Norman. “It creates a funding vehicle in which we can fund our EMS mission and then go ahead and catch up with what we’ve neglected on our fire side.”
Right now ESD 1 isn’t meeting national standards for response time, averaging at about 15 minutes. The National Fire Protection Agency standard is four minutes. They also aren’t meeting standards as far as staffing.
Creating a new ESD would provide funds for two new stations and additional staff.
Chief Norman says the district is strapped for funding because of a constitutional law in Texas. The state limits the amount of taxes emergency service districts can charge, up to 10 cents per $100 of property value. For a $200,000 home, the ESD can only get $200 a year to operate. That law has not changed in nearly two decades.
Norman says creating the overlay ESD is their best chance at getting adequate funding to better serve the community.
“With the growth that we’re seeing and more and more residents, and the visitors we have here, our problem is only compounding,” Norman says. “And the estimates we have from the tax assessor from this year, we’re not going to see any major growth in our budget again. We’re talking pennies when we need basically hundreds of thousands of dollars to fix the gap we have right now.”
Some of the deficiencies include fire apparatus’ that are 20 years old and an out-of-service boat that would sink if put in the water. In May, an older vehicle was involved in a rollover accident, sending a firefighter to the hospital.
If voters do approve the new ESD, it would mean an additional tax rate of up to 10 cents per $100 of property value.