Currently, the Pflugerville Fire Department—also known as Emergency Services District No. 2—provides fire and rescue, EMS and ALS services to Pflugerville, Pflugerville’s ETJ, parts of the city of Austin and unincorporated Travis County. On May 1, residents in parts of Austin and unincorporated Travis County voted to add an overlay, or additional, district called ESD 17 within the ESD 2 boundaries. This decision means ESD 17 will provide first response EMS and ALS in the parts of Austin and unincorporated Travis County within the ESD 2 area.
Ahead of the May 1 election, Pflugerville City Council decided to not include the ESD 17 proposition on the city’s ballot. Due to funding issues, ESD 2 will no longer be able to provide EMS and ALS along with fire and rescue services after Sept. 30.
Council Member Doug Weiss said a report on how to maintain those services for residents is expected to come out in the first council meeting in June. Options could include contracting with ESD 17 or a private for-profit service.
Council Member Rudy Metayer said ambulances and ALS services will always be available to Pflugerville residents no matter which option the city chooses.
“You want to make sure that you either keep the same level of care or improve upon it and see what can you do that’s cost-effective and important and provides important needs for our citizens,” Metayer said.
Serving a growing city
The city’s fire and rescue operations started in the 1950s as a volunteer fire department and became officially established as the Pflugerville Volunteer Fire Department in 1955, according to the department’s website.
ESD 2 was established in 1992, Assistant Fire Chief Nick Perkins said.
The ESD covers the Pflugerville city limits and its ETJ and is funded by an ad valorem tax limited to $0.10 per $100 of property valuation along with a half-cent sales tax, he said.
Around 2010, because of increased response times from the Austin and Travis County first response EMS ambulances, ESD 2 started its own EMS transport and ALS services, Perkins said.
As the city has grown, so has the need for first response EMS and ALS services, but the district is underfunded, said Trevor Stokes, the labor representative for ESD 2.
In September 2020, the district announced it did not have the funding to continue EMS and ALS services in the area. Without additional funding, the district would only be able to provide basic life-support measures along with fire and rescue, Stokes said.
The same month, the Pflugerville Firefighters Association started a petition to form ESD 17 as an overlay to provide first response EMS and ALS services in northeast Travis County, which would cover the entire area ESD 2 currently serves.
Overlay districts have to provide a different service than the pre-existing district, Stokes said. ESD 2 will continue to provide fire and rescue services and ESD 17 would focus only on EMS and ALS services. The tax impact is estimated to be $0.062 per $100 property valuation, or about $16 per month on a home valued at $300,000, according to the Pflugerville Fire Department.
When Pflugerville City Council opted out of adding the proposition to create ESD 17 to the May 1 ballot, that meant ESD 17 will only serve the areas that voted for it—parts of Austin and unincorporated Travis County. As a result, ESD 2 is unable to continue funding EMS and ALS services to its existing service area after Sept. 30.
Weighing the options
When council members heard about the funding issues toward the end of 2020, Weiss said they wanted to find the underlying problem before establishing an overlay district. Both Weiss and Metayer were appointed to an ESD 2 subcommittee to work on a solution in fall 2020.
With the petition to create ESD 17 already garnering signatures, the council decided to pump the brakes on making a decision, he said. City Council voted to hire emergency management consulting firm AP Triton on Jan. 26 to evaluate that decision and determine the best course of action going forward, including possibly contracting with ESD 17 or a private for-profit service.
Weiss said he hopes to see a cost-effective option that will continue to provide the same, if not better, level of service for the citizens.
Stokes said currently when residents cannot pay for a bill for an ambulance, the bill does not get sent to a debt collector whereas a private company can and will send the bill to a collector.
Whatever option the city goes with will have to be economically efficient for both the city and its ETJ, Metayer said, as well as working together with the service provider. With Pflugerville’s population growing at a rapid rate, City Council has a responsibility to look not just five to 10 years down the line, but 50 years in the future, he said.
“Our decisions, our viewpoints with this council is with that purview and that vision to be effective and look towards those lines,” Metayer said. “That’s the only way that we can look out for the best of the citizens of this community.”