By Moses Leos III
As demand for emergency services grows in Hays County, city and county officials are looking to the creation of a new emergency service district (ESD) for areas not covered by an existing department.
On March 15, the Kyle City Council approved a resolution in support of the creation of ESD 9.
According to San Marcos Hays County EMS Chief David Smith, the ESD would extend from Niederwald, Uhland and Kyle, as well as areas around San Marcos, and as far west as areas south of Dripping Springs’ extra territorial jurisdiction (ETJ).
Smith said the Hays County Commissioners Court could call a November election to create the ESD.
The Kyle City Council’s decision to join in the creation of ESD 9 follows support from the cities of Dripping Springs and Mountain City. Smith said San Marcos city staff recommended not to participate in the city limits, but allow the ESD to operate in its ETJ.
According to Smith, one of the reasons for the creation of the ESD was based on changes in the healthcare system. With the affordable care act (ACA), Smith said many citizens are moving from commercial to marketplace insurance programs.
As a result, San Marcos Hays County EMS, which is a non-profit, has seen revenue from patients and insurance companies diminish as calls for service increase.
Smith said the average commercial insurance paid to SMHCEMS fell by $85 per call from 2013 to 2014.
Medicare payments also decreased, Smith said. The average amount Medicare paid to SMHCEMS fell by $87 from 2013 to 2015.
In Kyle, Smith said the SMHCEMS, which is contracted by the city for EMS service, saw an 85 percent increase in the number of people transported in Kyle.
But patient revenue in Kyle fell by 41 percent.
“In my opinion, it’s going to be tougher for small EMS agencies to continue without increases in taxpayer subsidy,” Smith said.
SMHCEMS increased its tax subsidy in 2015 when its directors asked Kyle for double what they normally pay for EMS services.
To combat that issue, the SMHCEMS board of directors opted to create the ESD, which would levy its own sustaining tax for operations.
Kyle Taylor, who is part of the SMHCEMS board, said the ESD would be self-funding without revenues from taxing entities.
He added much of the Kyle area is one of the last without a fire department and EMS ESD.
Wimberley, North Hays County and Buda all have dedicated EMS / ESDs.
Smith said the ESD would allow for more response on the Interstate 35 corridor.
“That’s going to allow us to address growth and make sure we minimize taxpayer subsidies as much as possible, and increase our level of care as we expand services,” Smith said.
Smith said the ESD could levy a $.0370 tax rate to begin with. He said most ESDs in the area range between four to five cents for their tax rate.
Kyle Mayor Todd Webster said the ESD would create “security and availability” for EMS service in Kyle. He added he thought the creation of ESD 9 is necessary.
“If we don’t do something now and plan it well, it will cost taxpayers in the long run,” Webster said.
Taylor said the ESD could alleviate the increasing number of “Status Zero” calls, where there are no ambulances available to cover Interstate 35.
“This should have been done years back when all other ESDs were created,” Taylor said. “It will improve the quality of EMS service and response times and the number of ambulances.”