ESD 5: Sales tax vote heats up as firefighters see rising call numbers

By Kim HilsenbeckAs the region grows, so does the need for services such as police, fire protection, emergency services, parks, libraries and transportation/streets. 

But despite all the influx of new residents, Emergency Services District #5/Kyle Fire Department is not keeping pace. And that could impact its ability to meet the needs of its more than 50,000 customers. 

As a taxing entity, the ESD collects 10 cents of every dollar taxed in its district — the maximum allowed by Texas law.  That’s why ESD #5 is asking voters to approve an expansion of its sales tax boundaries to include the extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ) around the city of Kyle. 

If approved, the ESD could potentially bring in an additional $12,000 a month. 

Though the ESD is not a city department, Kyle Taylor, the Kyle Fire Department chief said the city of Kyle also contributes funds. 

“The city used to donate $5,000 and it paid our property insurance, which is $21,000,” he said. “This year the council voted to give $118,000 on top of the $26,000 to pay for replacement equipment and new radios.” 

While he cannot advocate for or against a ballot issue related to the ESD, Taylor can provide information about the issues, which he did in a recent interview. 

Taylor said if voters approve the measure, the increase in revenue will be used to hire more firefighters and purchase a new fire truck. 

“We need additional staffing and we need to replace a fire engine,” he said. 

The current year’s budget allowed Taylor to hire three full-time firefighters, but even that is not enough personnel to handle the recent call volume. 

“July marked the most calls ever made by the department,” he said. “We ran on 270 calls.” 

He thought it was a fluke as ESD #5 averages about 200 calls a month. 

But then August saw an increase to 285 calls. September was 304. 

“We’ve gone up 21 percent in a year,” he said. 

While Taylor estimated that some of the calls are what could be called unnecessary, i.e., false alarms, he still believes the call volume will continue to increase. 

Who is affected by the sales tax? 

Any business, or future business, in the city of Kyle’s ETJ would have to collect the sales tax. It also includes telecommunications, such as cellular phone service. Online purchases would also be affected. 

More revenue would allow the ESD to achieve what Taylor called a five-year plan to build another station and have nine more employees. 

One group that can advocate for the ballot proposition is the firefighters union. Firefighter Freddy Rolon, president of the Kyle Professional Firefighters Association, said the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) recommends one fire station per 10,000 residents.  ESD #5 has two stations, one on either side of Interstate 35. 

The population in Kyle and the surrounding area increased from 46,063 in 2010 according to U.S. Census data to a projected 55,000 this year. 

“We are understaffed,” Rolon said. 

A bigger concern for him is overlapping incidents. 

“That’s when we are out on one call and get a second or even third call,” he said. “That creates a safety issue.”

With call volume ostensibly increasing each month, overlapping incidents are also on the rise. 

Between July and September, ESD #5 had an average of 46 overlapping calls. Compare that to 2013 when the ESD had an average of 31 such calls. 

In addition to staffing concerns, Taylor said it’s time to purchase a new fire engine. 

“NFPA standards dictate that one of our current trucks is at the end of its life so it must be rotated to a reserve unit,” he said. 

Taylor said the current reserve engine is 16 years old; that will be sold, likely to a volunteer department. 

On the ballot, voters in the Kyle area who are serviced by ESD #5 can look for Proposition 1. 

Early voting began Monday. Election Day in Nov. 4.

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