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Hays to ask voters to OK new funds for ESD2 growth

Monday, April 27, 2015 by Kim Hilsenbeck

Is it time for northeastern Hays County residents to start paying the full price for emergency medical services? Buda Fire Chief Clay Huckaby hopes voters will think so come May 9 when they have a chance to make a difference in the lean budget on which the Emergency Services District, or ESD2, operates.

The district contracts with Buda Fire Department to provide paramedics and emergency medical service within a 75-square-mile area. Voters will decide in a special election if they will help more fully fund the agency responsible for providing that emergency medical response in Buda and other parts of northeastern Hays.

The measure on the ballot will ask voters to increase ESD2 funding from 3 to 10 cents per $100 home valuation, according to Huckaby, who said the district needs the additional funding to keep pace with growth and changes in emergency services locally.

“ESDs were never set up to fund paid emergency service departments,” he said. “They were meant to help fund rural volunteer departments that didn’t have paid staff.”

Texas law currently caps ESDs at the 10-cent tax. ESD2 collects taxes at only the 3-cent level, but an increase will require voter approval.

However, ESD2 commissioners in March passed a resolution that the board would not increase the tax rate beyond 5 cents per $100 home valuation in the next two years except in the case of unforeseeable circumstances.

“We operate on a very lean budget,” Huckaby said.

Part of staying lean is moving ahead with an election that calls for the full 10 cents, but for now operating only under the 5-cent tax.

The Texas Legislature created ESDs in the mid-1980s to provide money for rural fire departments that needed equipment and vehicles.

In the last decade, many ESDs, including ESD2, started transitioning to paid staff. During that same time, the population in and around Buda grew at a rapid pace. However, even with additional tax base dollars, Huckaby said the department projects that ESD2 will operate with a deficit because the taxes are not enough to keep pace with call volume increases and higher operating expenses.

ESD2’s 2015 operating budget is $1,247,500. But total revenue, from property taxes ($660,389) and patient revenue ($496,165), is only $1,156,554. That puts ESD2 operating at a more than $90,000 deficit. It has some funds in reserve, but not enough to cover projected future deficits.

ESD2 receives no funds from the city of Buda, Huckaby said.

“They gave us about $50,000 more than 10 years ago for a brush truck,” he said. “But the city doesn’t provide any funding on a year-to-year basis.”

Huckaby said if voters do not pass the increase, ESD2 would continue to operate at a deficit for the foreseeable future. By 2016, the deficit is projected to be $212,933.

Does Huckaby think ESD2 voters will pass the measure?

“I hope citizens see the need,” he said, “and will make an educated decision at the ballot box.”


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