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Ensuring All Wilco Residents Fire and Emergency Services

Oped by Commissioner Cook

  • 18 July 2019
  • Author: Doris Sanchez
  • Number of views: 1102
  • 0 Comments

These petitions must contain at least 100 validated signatures from persons who are registered voters and property owners in the proposed district. Municipalities in the proposed ESD must give their consent for areas in both their city limits and extra territorial jurisdictions (known as ETJs) to be included in the ESD.

ESDs 1 and 2 and a small portion of ESD 9 are in my precinct. ESD 9 contracts with Round Rock and serves its ETJ in the city’s eastern edge.

While I’m impressed by the level of quality and services our Wilco ESDs provide, I’m concerned some of them may be in danger of extinction or reduction.

The 86th Legislature passed a bill requiring cities, counties and special districts like ESDs to hold rollback tax elections if they wish to increase their effective property tax rate by 3.5 percent over their Fiscal Year 2020 budget.

Previous law allowed special districts, cities and counties to raise property taxes up to 8 percent before an election was required.

When I asked ESD 2 Commissioner (and President) Thom Nanninga about the impact of this legislation on ESDs, he said, “I think there will be bankruptcies statewide. I don’t know about Williamson County. Wilco is exclusive because our growth is dynamic.

“The more homes and businesses that open here, the more taxes there are. That could be our saving caveat. But smaller rural areas, I don’t know.”

Time will tell if and which ESDs survive. It will be two years before the possible need for a rollback tax election since ESDs pay their tax debt a year behind (2018 taxes paid in 2019).

In 2011, ESD 1—the Jollyville Fire Department—suffered a 53 percent slash in its tax base when the city of Austin annexed two of its large municipal utility district neighborhoods.

In fall 2011, voters in the Williamson County ESD 1 approved a 1 percent sales and use tax that would raise an additional $50,000 annually for the Jollyville Fire Department to offset revenue losses from the annexation.

Today, the Jollyville Fire Department provides fire protection and rescue services for approximately 24,000 residents within a 12.5 square mile area.

ESD 2 owns the three Sam Bass Fire Stations, including the recently opened station on Great Oaks north of Brushy Creek. Each fire station has its own budget with oversight from the Board.

In 1998, Sam Bass transitioned from a volunteer fire department to a combination department, with both paid staff and volunteers.

Bordered on the south by Austin, the west by Cedar Park and the east by Round Rock, ESD 2 encompasses 14 square miles.

Based on the debt owed by Fern Bluff MUD and Brushy Creek MUD, these sections of ESD 2 probably won’t be annexed for another 20 years because when all or a portion of a district is annexed, the city assumes that debt.

If Round Rock annexed the Fern Bluff MUD, it would assume 40 percent of their debt because the MUD comprises 40 percent of ESD 2, which would in turn lose that MUD’s funding.

Any Williamson County ESD you look at, you’ll see well-trained and dedicated emergency professionals ready to protect our lives. ESDs are well-designed and well-run, thanks to our ESD Board Commissioners. 

For more information, visit http://tinyurl.com/yxgtwe59.

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