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After OK by Austin, ESD vote goes to Travis County

Monday, February 8, 2021 by Jo Clifton

City Council voted unanimously Thursday to allow voters in the city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction within Emergency Services District 2 to vote on whether to create Travis County Emergency Services District 17. If approved by voters, the vote would authorize creation of an Emergency Services District Medical Overlay to fund ambulance services in Northeast Travis County.

ESD 2 provides both fire and emergency medical services but argues it cannot afford to continue EMS services with its current level of funding. According to the Pflugerville Chamber of Commerce, “Travis County Emergency Services District Number 2 offers fire protection, rescue and emergency medical services to over 133,000 residents throughout almost 80 square miles.”

Although petitioners included citizens of Pflugerville and Hutto, neither city voted to put the item on the May ballot. Pflugerville’s Council voted 6-1 last week to reject the request for a May ballot item. Hutto’s Council did not consider the request.

At a hearing Tuesday, the Travis County Commissioners Court will vote on whether to place the item on the ballot. Commissioners Jeff Travillion and Brigid Shea, who represent the area, wrote a letter to the Pflugerville City Council urging it to approve the election. Commissioners must decide whether creation of the district is feasible and will promote public safety for people living within the district.

If voters decide in favor of the new district, property owners within the district will pay an additional tax to fund it. Pflugerville firefighters, who operate ESD 2, started and promoted the petition signed by about 4,700 area voters. ESD 2 also operates five ambulances in the district.

In their letter to the Pflugerville Council, Shea and Travillion said Travis County has held three ESD medical overlay elections within the last decade, all of them successful. “In approving and funding these elections, the Travis County Commissioners Court has clearly indicated that, by meeting the statutory requirements to hold an election, the voters should be given a chance to decide.”

Pflugerville Council Member David Rogers told the Austin Monitor Friday that he and his colleagues voted against putting the item on the May ballot because “we don’t know if it’s necessary or not. We have hired an outside consultant to look at this and expect to get a report in May or June.”

John Hatch, president of Texas Petition Strategies, who helped gather signatures for the petition, said firefighters held a press conference last September to let Pflugerville and Hutto know they were going to need to make a decision in the near future. He pointed out that Pflugerville and other cities do not have the option of holding an election in November 2021. So, he said, if the consultant comes back and says the ESD needs more money to continue its ambulance services, it will be too late to call an election.

Hatch said ESD 2 is currently allowed to collect no more than 10 cents per $100 valuation, or about $13 a month on the average-priced house in Pflugerville. Hatch said backers of the ESD 17 originally anticipated collecting five to six cents per $100 valuation, but he said he could not estimate what the cost might be without Pflugerville and Hutto. On the one hand, he noted they would be collecting less money. But on the other hand, they would be providing fewer services.

So the decision will now go to Travis County commissioners. After hearing from citizens, they will have to decide if they should move forward without participation from Pflugerville and Hutto voters.

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