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New Southeast Travis district would raise taxes for fire protection


Highlights

Property taxes in the area would rise $115 on average, if voters approve forming the new district.

Without the new district, emergency chief says the district cannot afford to provide fire protection.

Without local fire protection, insurance premiums could rise. Estimate shows $430 a year hike for $200k home.

Southeastern Travis County voters have a choice this spring whether to add a second emergency services district over an existing one — essentially a shortcut to allow taxes to be raised above the legal maximum.

Vote yes and emergency services district property taxes in the area will likely double, from an average of $115 per year to an average of $230. Vote no and there might be no immediate response the next time a house catches on fire.

The existing Emergency Services District 11 provides emergency medical and fire response to about 30,000 people within a large swath of unincorporated Travis County southeast of Austin city limits. It is funded via sales tax and a property tax levy of 10 cents per $100 of value, the maximum allowed by such districts under state law.

But it’s set to lose its single biggest source of revenue — a HOLT CAT supplier on the Interstate 35 frontage road — when the city of Austin annexes that property. Taxes from that facility alone, especially from sales, fund about a third of ESD 11’s emergency operations, district Fire Chief Ken Bailey said.

Without the tax money from the CAT facility, Bailey said he will have no choice but to cut fire protection and leave medical services in place.

“We’ve had a couple of people say, ‘I don’t want my fire protection to go away,’ but at the end of the day, I only have so much revenue,” Bailey said. “Eighty percent of what I do is EMS. If I don’t have a replacement for that revenue, we have to make a choice.”

Without fire protection, other nearby jurisdictions would have to help out if there were fires in the area, likely increasing response time. Homeowners would probably have to pay more for insurance in that case. One Travelers Insurance estimate requested by Bailey showed the owner of a $200,000 home would pay $430 a year more in premiums if it didn’t have fire protection.

Thus, the proposal, from a petition of more than 100 landowners, to create ESD 15, a second emergency services district covering the same area.

Unlike ESD 11, ESD 15 wouldn’t collect sales tax, only property tax. It would have an independent board and the authority to set a tax rate up to the maximum 10 cents per $100 of property value. The additional tax revenue would provide fire protection to the district, likely by contracting with ESD 11 to provide it, according to a presentation to Buda city leaders.

“To the public, it will look like a single agency, but there will be two service districts supporting the agency’s functions,” the presentation said.

ESD 11’s budget for the current year is about $3.4 million, 70 percent of it from sales tax, 27 percent from property tax and 3 percent from fees, according to a presentation in November.

Austin City Council members considered annexing the CAT facility last year. When representatives of ESD 11 raised revenue concerns, council members agreed to hold off for a year so the district could have time to plan.

Early voting for the upcoming election begins Monday. Election Day is May 6.



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