Pflugerville brainstorms EMS funding options as service demands spike

Pflugerville City Council voted to delay further debate until it is able to meet with the ESD No. 2 board, Travis County commissioners, Austin-Travis County EMS Services and other invested parties to outline all possible means of providing EMS services to city and extraterritorial jurisdiction, or ETJ, residents in Pflugerville. (Community Impact staff)
Pflugerville City Council voted to delay further debate until it is able to meet with the ESD No. 2 board, Travis County commissioners, Austin-Travis County EMS Services and other invested parties to outline all possible means of providing EMS services to city and extraterritorial jurisdiction, or ETJ, residents in Pflugerville. (Community Impact staff)

Pflugerville City Council voted to delay further debate until it is able to meet with the ESD No. 2 board, Travis County commissioners, Austin-Travis County EMS Services and other invested parties to outline all possible means of providing EMS services to city and extraterritorial jurisdiction, or ETJ, residents in Pflugerville. (Community Impact staff)

Amid public conversations regarding the financial stability of Travis County Emergency Services District No. 2 and petitions for the inclusion of a new ESD proposal on the May ballot, Pflugerville City Council approved Jan. 12 the delay of further discussions on the topic.

Council voted to delay additional discussions about ESD No. 2, which oversees the Pflugerville Fire Department, until it is able to meet with the ESD No. 2 board and the Travis County Commissioners Court. The meeting will outline the possible means of providing EMS services to city and extraterritorial jurisdiction, or ETJ, residents in Pflugerville.

The deadline for including items on the May ballot is Feb. 12, and the city is set to make a decision by Feb. 8. In addition to the city of Pflugerville's consideration, Travis County Commissioners Court is expected to review ESD No. 2's district overlay proposal at its Feb. 9 meeting.

Calls for action

The Pflugerville Professional Firefighters Association initiated a petition for the formation of Travis County ESD No. 17—a district overlay on top of ESD No. 2—in September. If established, ESD No. 17 would provide funding for emergency medical and ambulance services in northeast Travis County, including Pflugerville.


ESD No. 2 reported dwindling financial projections that, per the entity's calculations, would lead to a depletion in the department's reserves by fiscal year 2023-24.

"Projections show that ESD [No.] 2 will not have enough resources to continue providing enhanced emergency medical services, including advanced life support and ambulance transport, at its current levels," according to a Sept. 29 ESD No. 2 news release.

The discussion held by Pflugerville City Council on Jan. 12 was not to formally establish the district overlay but rather to consider the proposal's inclusion on the May ballot. Several residents and firefighters have spoken out in favor of the petition on and before Jan. 12 to urge council to leave the decision up to the voters.

Pflugerville firefighter Chris Wolff said November's approved bond election highlighted that citizens will make decisions in the best interest of the city if given the opportunity. Pflugerville's population is growing too quickly to delay EMS service enhancements, Wolff said.

Citizens want and deserve to vote on maintaining the department's current level of service while adapting to widespread growth within the community, said Joshua Stubblefield, president of the Pflugerville Professional Firefighters Association.

"If you don’t consent for the city and for the ETJ, you’re speaking for those citizens that cannot vote you in or out of office, and you’re taking full responsibility for that, and you’re going to have to provide [advanced life support] transport in both of those areas when ESD [No.] 17 is created," Stubblefield said.

In addressing Stubblefield's comment on assuming responsibility for EMS services, Council Member Rudy Metayer said the ESD would be the one ceasing to provide the services and that it would not be the city making that decision on ESD No. 2's behalf.

Metayer said there is no requirement for the city to provide services to the ETJ in general and added that the city could contract out services for the ETJ or give municipal utility districts the opportunity to construct a plan for their own fire and EMS services.

Concerns over tax implications

Some citizens urged council to consider alternative funding resources and pointed to potentially greater department financial stability than was being presented.

Residents Melody Ryan and Anthony Nguyen spoke to oppose the creation of ESD No. 17. Ryan referred to the addition of the overlay as an opportunity "to double our taxes" and said ESD commissioners are not elected by voters and cannot be held accountable by the same citizens they tax.

Citing audited financial documents from ESD No. 2, Ryan said ESD No. 2's annual sales tax revenues have increased by $5.1 million, or 67%, between 2017 and the present. Ryan said documents showed a 34% population growth and a call volume increase of 50% since the ESD's last district overlay attempt in 2013.

Nguyen said he is typically in favor of allowing voters to decide on similar government initiatives; however, he said he believes elected leaders should not punt further decisions down the road and argued against the necessity for an overlay.

"ESD [No.] 2 has a habit of underestimating revenues and overestimating expenses," Nguyen said.

Exploring alternative solutions

City Manager Sereniah Breland said the city has issued a request for qualifications, or RFQ, to determine what options the city has regarding the future of emergency medical and ambulance services. Some possibilities included: tiered services for basic life support and advanced life support services; utilizing paramedic response units to respond to scenes more quickly; running a city fire and EMS department; and contracting with ESD No. 2 for EMS services, among other options.

Breland said sales tax revenue has continued to grow for Pflugerville during the pandemic, increasing well beyond previous city expectations. Citing ESD No. 2 documents, she said district fund balances showed a $16.3 million balance at the end of FY 2019-20 and a 50% increase in service calls from 2014 to 2021.

Given the nature of the city's growing populations and increasing number of taxpayers, Breland said, the city expects that revenue to increase accordingly.

Based on financial figures Breland provided and on alternative plans available for consideration, Council Member Mike Heath said there is no imminent need for a discussion at this time.

"This is not prudent, and there’s nothing that drives this decision right at this moment other than personal desires of a few people," Heath said. "This is not the one to conduct the business of the people."

Mayor Pro Tem Omar Peña strongly denounced the manner in which public conversations surrounding the ESD No. 17 proposal have been held and added that he was specifically upset at signage placed around the city stating ambulance services will be canceled at the end of 2021 if no action is taken by council.

"That is, quite frankly, an insult, and [there] is hardly any effort on their part other than a very sincere appreciation for their position of influence and their position to be able to collectively insert fear, uncertainty and doubt into the population," Peña said.
By Kelsey Thompson
Kelsey Thompson is the reporter for Round Rock, Pflugerville and Hutto, where her work focuses on education, city government and community development. Originally from Upstate New York, Kelsey relocated to Austin after graduating from Syracuse University in May 2019.


MOST RECENT

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee recommended Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot vaccine for emergency authorization use Feb. 26. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine recommended for emergency authorization use by FDA

This is the third COVID-19 vaccine that has been approved for emergency authorization use after those produced by pharmaceutical company Pfizer and biotechnology company Moderna.

Full-time staff would receive a $500 allotment for personal protective equipment, while part-time employees would be given a one-time $250 payment. (Screenshot courtesy Pflugerville ISD)
Pflugerville ISD approves one-time PPE, vaccine incentive stipends for staff

Full-time staff would receive a $500 allotment for personal protective equipment, while part-time employees would be given a one-time $250 payment.

A new Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine could help expand vaccination availability in Travis County, according to local health officials. (Courtesy Pexels)
Johnson & Johnson vaccine could mean additional supply, easier distribution rollout in Travis County

If approved, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be a valuable weapon against the ongoing pandemic, according to local health officials.

Hutto Fire Rescue received the 2020 Achievement of Excellence in Fire Prevention Award. (Megan Cardona/Community Impact Newspaper)
Hutto Fire Rescue recognized for excellence in fire prevention

Hutto Fire Rescue was awarded the 2020 Achievement of Excellence in Fire Prevention Award

Snow covers I-45 in Houston during a winter storm that hit Texas the night of Feb. 14. (Shawn Arrajj/Community Impact Newspaper)
Legislators probe energy officials over power failures, lack of preparation heading into winter storm

The Texas Legislature held hearings Feb. 25 with energy companies including Oncor Electric Delivery and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas in response to last week’s historic winter storm, which left millions of Texans without electricity for days.

Jo's Coffee opened a North Austin location in January. (Courtesy Chad Wadsworth)
Jo's Coffee opens in Central Austin; new restaurant coming to Georgetown Square and more Central Texas news

Read the latest business and community news from the Central Texas area.

Here is everything you need to know about Williamson County’s COVID-19 vaccine plan. (Ali Linan/Community Impact Newspaper)
Here is everything you need to know about Williamson County’s COVID-19 vaccine plan

Here is a breakdown of what happened, how decisions were made and how vaccine distribution is moving forward in Williamson County.

The Pflugerville Community Development Corp. received the annual Economic Excellence award for 2020 by the Texas Economic Development Corp. (Kelsey Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
Pflugerville Community Development Corp. awarded for economic excellence in seventh consecutive year

The Pflugerville Community Development Corp. was awarded for its economic excellence during the Texas Economic Development Corp.'s 2021 Legislative Conference.

Just over a week after Winter Storm Uri hit Texas and left millions without water, heat and power, members of Pflugerville City Council addressed the crisis Feb. 23 and the need for state accountability moving forward. (Screenshot courtesy city of Pflugerville)
'This didn't need to happen': Following Winter Storm Uri, Pflugerville seeks answers from state

Just over a week after Winter Storm Uri hit Texas and left millions without water, heat and power, members of Pflugerville City Council addressed the crisis Feb. 23 and the need for state accountability moving forward.

As many as 31 stores across nine states will be shuttered as Fry's Electronics shuts down due to market changes and the pandemic. (Courtesy Qygen, Wikimedia Commons)
Fry's Electronics calls it quits after nearly 36 years in business

As many as 31 stores across nine states will be shuttered as Fry's Electronics shuts down due to market changes and the pandemic.

A lone runner jogs on a snow-covered road in Austin. Transportation projects across the city were briefly paused due to Winter Storm Uri. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
ERCOT: Texas power system was less than 5 minutes from collapse during winter storm

ERCOT's CEO offered details into what led to the massive blackouts that left millions of Texans in the cold last week.

Photo of a snowy residential street
'Bad data is worse than no data': Austin health officials unsure how storm affected coronavirus spread

Weekly testing and hospitalization averages will not be updated by Austin Public Health until Feb. 27.