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Pflugerville area voters making decisions about EMS service

Tuesday, November 2, 2021 by Jo Clifton

Travis County commissioners Jeff Travillion and Brigid Shea are urging voters they represent in Pflugerville and its extraterritorial jurisdiction to vote in favor of two propositions on today’s ballot that would expand the geographic boundaries of Travis County Emergency Services District No. 17 to include those areas.

The vote comes in the midst of a long-running argument between the local ESDs and the city of Pflugerville, which is seeking to contract with Acadian Ambulance Service, a private for-profit company. Pflugerville City Council has been in discussions with Acadian for several weeks and held an unusual Saturday meeting with the contract as its sole agenda item. After an executive session, members of Council voted to postpone action on the contract but did not specify a date for that action, according to city spokesperson Terri Toledo.

ESD No. 2, otherwise known as the Pflugerville Fire Department, began to operate its own public ambulances in 2017. Mike Howell, who serves on the boards of ESDs 2 and 17, said firefighters recognized that the area needed a dedicated ambulance service, so all firefighters are either paramedics or EMTs. He pointed out that the Pflugerville Fire Department has achieved the highest safety rating a fire department can receive.

As the Austin American-Statesman reported in August, PFD put out a press release last year stating that, without additional funding, current financial reserves would run out by Fiscal Year 2023-24.

In February, Travis County commissioners and Austin City Council approved placing on the May ballot an item to allow ESD 17, the EMS side of the organization, to fund public ambulances in other parts of Travis County, including the ETJs of Austin, Manor and Taylor. But Pflugerville City Council voted against allowing its residents, as well as those in its ETJ, to vote on the measure.

In response, firefighters gathered enough signatures to place two propositions on today’s ballot. The city of Pflugerville then filed suit against ESD No. 17 to try to prevent its voters, as well as those in the ETJ, from voting on the annexation propositions.

Opponents of expanding ESD No. 17 argue that taxpayers do not want to pay the additional money it would cost to fund the ambulance service. If the city instead contracts with a private provider, most or all of the cost would be borne by people using that private ambulance service.

ESD No. 17 has set its tax rate at 4.5 percent for the upcoming year, which amounts to a tax increase of about $84 for the owner of a home valued at $300,000.

Pflugerville Council Member Rudy Metayer told KXAN, “Make no mistake, what’s underlying all of this is affordability. That is the crux right here.”

But a developer who owns considerable acreage worth a lot more than the average homeowner would have to pay more. Howell and Josh Stubblefield, president of the Pflugerville Firefighters Association, both acknowledged that developers were major contributors to the campaign against ESD No. 17 in Pflugerville and surrounding areas.

In addition to its negotiations with the private ambulance service, Pflugerville Council has passed an ordinance implying it will criminally prosecute EMS providers working for any entity that does not have a contract with the city. The ordinance, which is slated to take effect Jan. 1, 2022, states that it is a class C misdemeanor with a potential $2,500 fine for a first responder who does not have a franchise with the city to respond to an emergency request.

ESD No. 2 has an agreement with Pflugerville through the end of December.

The Austin Monitor sent a public information request to Barbara Rush, chief of staff for Commissioner Shea, asking for information she might have about that ordinance. In an email to the Pflugerville city manager, Sereniah Breland, Rush asked, “The proposed ordinance includes language that appears to limit ESD 2’s ability to provide first responder services within the city of Pflugerville limits …. Is that the intent of the City Council when considering adopting this ordinance?”

Breland responded, “The intent is not to limit Travis County ESD No. 2’s ability to provide first responder services. This ordinance would require EMS providers to have a franchise agreement with the city of Pflugerville, but it does not make that franchise exclusive to one provider. This means Travis County ESD No. 2 could be issued a franchise to continue first responder services.”

Rush then asked: “Does your statement mean that Travis County ESD No. 2 would not be allowed to continue to provide any first responder services in the city of Pflugerville or its ETJ until or unless they were issued a franchise by the city?” and, “Does your statement mean that without a franchise agreement from the city of Pflugerville, a TCESD 2 firefighter/EMT will be prohibited from providing first responder care to a patient prior to an ambulance arriving on scene?”

Breland replied, “I have received and have conferred with legal staff. On that advice, I cannot provide responses at this time.”

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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