A quarter-cent sales tax increase that the Hays County Emergency Services District No. 6 would use to fund a new fire station and other equipment will go before voters in the May 6 election.
The emergency service district is based in Dripping Springs, but the tax would be levied only in areas outside city limits that haven’t reached the maximum sales tax allowed. That means just the 35,000 or so voters living in the roughly 244 square miles of unincorporated land in northwest Hays County will have a say on the measure.
ESD No. 6 operates the North Hays County Fire and Rescue Department, which provides service from six fire stations with a combination of volunteer and professional staff.
District officials say the estimated $160,000 the tax would bring in annually is needed to move Station 74 East to a larger site and buy more specialized equipment, including a ladder truck, to accommodate the district’s growing population.
The station, located at 14121 U.S. 290, is the second-busiest and needs to be expanded but is constrained by the size of the land it sits on, meaning a new station will have to be built elsewhere, said Chief Scott Collard.
Fire departments in bigger cities such as Austin commonly have ladder trucks, which are essentially fire trucks with a 100-foot ladder mounted on top. When the district needs one now, they have to request assistance from Austin.
The truck would help the district with reaching taller buildings that are starting to spring up in the area as well as with flood rescue.
The construction cost for the station is estimated at $4.5 million, and the ladder truck and equipment would cost $1.5 million, Collard said. The district’s total budget is about $3.5 million.
“That’s a big old hit if we have to do something like that without another revenue stream,” Collard said. “(The sales tax would) help offset some of that cost, so we don’t have to take away from other line items and we can continue to sustain the quality level of service we provide now and on into the future.”
Collard said the benefit of using sales tax as a revenue tool is that unlike property tax, the burden isn’t solely on residents; instead, out-of-towners and others buying goods and services can contribute to the district’s coffers.
The maximum sales tax in Texas is 8.25 percent. Of that, 6.25 percent goes to the state, and the remaining 2 percent is left for local governments, including emergency service districts.
Hays County already collects 0.5 percent of the available 2 percent. Some cities, including Dripping Springs, have already claimed the remainder and are at the maximum percentage allowed.