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Voters to decide on new emergency services district in Southeast Travis County

Tuesday, February 21, 2017 by Caleb Pritchard

Residents in Southeast Travis County will soon get to vote on a plan to shore up the financial health of their first responders.

Last Tuesday, the Commissioners Court unanimously approved a petition to create Emergency Services District No. 15, a new taxing entity that officials are hoping to lay over the exact boundaries of Emergency Services District No. 11.

The existing district covers 120 square miles and includes residents in Austin’s extraterritorial jurisdiction as well as portions of Creedmoor, Mustang Ridge, Buda, Bastrop, Webberville and Niederwald. It operates three fire stations that serve an estimated 30,000 people.

Due to relatively lower land values, ESD No. 11’s financial standing is less robust than its peer districts. Approximately 32 percent of its $3.4 million annual budget is collected as sales tax revenue from a Holt Cat construction equipment dealership on I-35. The city of Austin plans to annex that land, prompting ESD No. 11 officials to scramble to find a backup plan.

Their efforts produced the plan to overlay ESD No. 15 onto No. 11.

Attorney Kelli Carlton, representing the Travis County Firefighters Association Local 4583, told the court that the creation of the new district could make up for 88 percent of the revenue that will be lost once the city annexes the Holt Cat property. However, that hinges on successful votes to join the district in each of the various jurisdictions in its proposed boundaries. Because the lion’s share of revenues would come from Austin’s ETJ, that area’s participation is crucial to the district’s success.

“So of all the 60 iterations, they all work, except if Austin’s ETJ says no in their vote,” Carlton explained. “So we can take Webberville, Niederwald, Bastrop, Buda, and add it to Austin, and any version of that is a benefit to the people living in the area. But we’re going to need Austin.”

ESD No. 11 Fire Chief Ken Bailey said that without the new overlay, he will likely have to shutter one of the district’s three fire stations. That decision could translate to more than just a blow to public safety, he said.

“If you’re not within 5 miles of a fire station, you can, on average, expect to spend about $450 more a year in your insurance premiums. And that’s the impact on one of the most poor and vulnerable populations in southeast Travis County,” Bailey said.

In the end, and in accordance with state law, the court deemed that the proposal to create ESD No. 15 is feasible and will promote the public safety, welfare, health and convenience of residents within its proposed boundaries.

Voters will decide in May whether to join the new district.

Photo of Travis County ESD 4 courtesy of Travis County ESD 4.

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