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Commissioners back emergency district’s request to serve F1 racetrack

Wednesday, October 17, 2012 by Michael Kanin

Members of the Travis County Commissioners Court Tuesday backed a plan to partner with the City of Austin to allow Emergency Services District 11 to continue providing emergency services for the new Circuit of the Americas racetrack — even if Austin annexes the southeast Travis County property.

 

County Fire Rescue Chief Ken Bailey was careful to point out to commissioners that his emergency district 11 and the city would benefit financially from the arrangement. However, under the proposal Capital Metro would stand to lose a 1-cent sales tax from track proceeds.

 

Still, Travis Commissioners offered their support for the idea in the form of a letter addressed to Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell and other members of the Austin City Council. The letter says, “The Travis County Commissioners Court strongly supports the partnership proposed by the District as a cooperative effort that will greatly benefit the City, and its residents, and the District, and its residents, and all of Southeast Travis County.”

 

Capital Metro spokesperson Francine Pares told In Fact Daily that the organization would “strongly oppose” Bailey’s proposal. Pares pointed to the role of transportation in getting attendees to the upcoming November Formula 1 race and other events that will be held at the Circuit of the Americas’ track. “That funding is dedicated to transit and Capital Metro needs that to provide transportation services,” she said.

 

In his pitch, Bailey argued that whether his district continued to serve the track, it would have to respond to calls there thanks to a 2011 automatic aid agreement with the city – a deal that, according to Bailey, “sends the closest unit” to a scene, regardless of jurisdiction.

 

ESD 11, which covers the far southeastern portion of Travis County, boasts three fire stations, staffed by roughly 30 firefighters. One of the stations is directly across the street from the racetrack.

 

Last week, Austin City Council held a public hearing as part of the process to annex more than 1,500 acres, most of which is owned by racetrack operator Circuit of the Americas.  Another hearing is scheduled for Thursday. Council members could vote on annexing the site as early as Nov. 8, Bailey said.

 

Without Bailey’s proposed agreement, an annexation would remove the track from ESD 11’s jurisdiction, which means the district would then lose sales tax revenue associated with the facility. In a Tuesday article, Bailey told the Austin American-Statesman that the track generated about $500,000 in sales tax revenue for the district this year.

 

With the deal, ESD 11 would collect 1.5 cents of the 8.25-cent sales tax in the area, and return a half-a-penny to the City of Austin. In a letter to commissioners, Bailey insisted that the return of .5 cents to city coffers would ensure that Austin “would not lose … sales tax revenue.”

 

Bailey hopes to use the sales tax revenue that the ESD collects from the track to help increase staffing in his department to four people per truck. That staffing level would jibe with a prominent goal of the Austin Fire Department.

 

“This effort would allow the district to meet the state-mandated requirement of four firefighters being on scene prior to going into a burning building in a shorter period of time, which will undoubtedly improve the ability of the District to save lives and property,” Bailey wrote in a letter to Commissioners.

 

The discussion comes as Austin and Travis County continue to hash out a revision of the interlocal agreement that governs how the parties manage the region’s Emergency Medical System. Commissioner Karen Huber asked the county’s executive in charge of Emergency Services, Danny Hobby, whether Commissioners’ support of Bailey’s proposal would go well with those efforts.

 

Hobby responded that Bailey’s proposal would fit. “I just think this is a gallant attempt,” he added. “It’s very refreshing to see that (Bailey) is doing this.”

 

For her part, Pares expects that Capital Metro will receive the 1-cent tax it normally does when the track is annexed. “We expect that to happen if the city does, in fact, incorporate that area,” she said.

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