ESD #5 by the numbers: Funding problems plague growing fire districts

See our ESD#5 by the numbers here
By Kim Hilsenbeck

Kyle Fire Department is in a bind, according to Chief Kyle Taylor.
When voters in November rejected allowing Emergency Service District (ESD) #5 to collect sales tax in Kyle’s extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ), it left the department without additional income, even while service calls were rising.
The call volume increased on average from 190 per month in 2013 to 288 per month in 2014. 
Since restructuring its operations in 2013, the department made progress in hiring new firefighters and purchasing new equipment. This year ESD #5 replaced a brush truck with assistance from the city of Kyle and an LCRA grant. A new pumper to replace an older one is on order. 
“Our previous strategic plan said we would need a new station around Plum Creek and an additional engine by 2019,” Taylor said. “After the election we redid that plan. We’ll get three more firefighters in the next three years. No station, no truck.”
Still, Taylor worries about public safety. One issue is firefighters are getting a second call while still out on the first, which negatively impacts response times.
What’s the solution?
Taylor is advocating for a change at the legislative level to create a new type of fire district. The current ESD system, created in 1987, was for rural fire departments to afford equipment and gear. Taxpayers in an ESD pay up to 10¢ per $100 home valuation. ESD #5 is capped out at the 10-cent level.
If property values rise, the ESD would collect more money. Conversely, if property values fall, “we have to lay people off,” Taylor said.
ESD #5 operates on $2.3 million annually. Taylor said $3.2 million a year would cover the cost of a new station, engine and nine new fire fighters.  He said the average annual budget of a municipal department serving the same population and call volume averages $5 million. 
Back in 1987, most every fire company in Hays County was comprised of volunteers.
“The current ESD system wasn’t meant to support paid staff,” Taylor said.
His department has been slowly transitioning from an all-volunteer to a paid staff, though, he said, he values the 20 or so area residents who continue to volunteer with KFD.
Taylor said the creation of a suburban fire district would be a possible solution. Such a system may have a tax cap of $.15 or $.20 cents per $100 home valuation.
In December, Taylor, along with three other local ESD fire chiefs, met with State Rep. Jason Isaac to discuss funding high growth ESDs. Taylor said there seems to be little support to enact a new type of district or change the tax cap to allow ESDs to grow. Taylor said the Texas Fire Chiefs Association pledged to support legislation to help suburban ESDs. 
Meanwhile, Taylor said calls for service keep inching up and he is concerned that no new funding in a growing area is asking for trouble.

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