ESD absorbs new costs at same tax rate



Thanks to rising property values and steep growth in sales tax revenue, Williamson County Emergency Services District #4 (ESD) is poised to absorb a more than $800,000 budget increase without increasing the tax rate for the next fiscal year.

Commissioners first considered a budget based on the maximum tax rate of $0.10 per $100 property value, but following a brief discussion, settled on the current rate in a split vote.

President Dan Clark, Secretary James Crabtree and Treasurer Keith Bright voted in favor of proposing the current rate of $0.09825, while Vice President James Baker and Assistant Treasurer Jeff Roemer were opposed.

Roemer questioned the benefit or the savings of choosing the lower rate, but Bright believed that there was more to gain in maintaining it than raising it, even slightly.

“I would like to stay at that rate,” Bright said. “It’s my personal opinion. I expect our growth to be astronomical. If you go to 10 cents then we’re done forever. If we weren’t in such a high-growth area I’d say yes, we have to do something. But we’re in such a high-growth area I don’t want to pull that trigger until we have to.”

The difference in tax rates would mean a difference in only $5.25 in taxes annually on a home valued at $300,000.

Crabtree echoed Bright’s sentiment, adding that preventing any increase possible is helpful.

“My reason for it is I think we’re doing everything we can in the district to respond to the growth, make sure that our chief and our firefighters have what they need, but I’m also cognizant of the fact that property taxes keep going up repeatedly, people are worried about that,” he said.

The total proposed budget is $3,889,536, an increase of $802,961 over the current fiscal year.

The budget increased dramatically, primarily due to expenses with the construction and opening of Fire Station No. 2.

“This is the year we’ve been planning for,” said Chief Anthony Lincoln. “We’ve known this was coming, that’s why we’ve been trying to get some money in the bank, trying to get in position where we can absorb this year and next and level out after that.”

Debt service for the upcoming year increased by $396,770 annually to a total of $624,018 next year with the additional payments for the new station and the new engine recently delivered.

“Debt service is a big one,” Lincoln said. “We knew it was coming and we’ve prepared for it the best we could.”

The debt on Fire Station No. 1 will be paid off after two years, which will then lower the debt service amount as it and other vehicles come off the books.

The other prime area of increase in next year’s budget is personnel expenses, up $642,512 to $2,211,331 of the total budget.

“We added six people in the middle of this year going into that new station,” Lincoln said. “With that comes the cost related to it such as taxes, retirement and everything that goes with it. We took a big jump in salaries going from 18 to 24 people.”

The addition of a full-time fire marshal accounted for some increase as well, bumping the budget by $102,048 for personnel as well as a slight increase in community awareness funding for programs.

“I’ve been visiting with the fire marshal about some of the things I want to do with some community services, putting out some more information, so we saw there would be an increase there,” Lincoln said.

With growth, line items such as apparatus maintenance, fuel, utilities, insurance, training and equipment all saw an increase as well.

“Fuel went up because we have another truck on the road with the fire marshals office,” he said. “Come April, when we’re running two engines every day, and a squad and battalion, we have a lot of wear and tear on things like tires and stuff like that.”

Lincoln reminded commissioners that there are expenses related to the temporary station on the east side of the district, and that the new station, once completed will only impact the budget for about half the fiscal year and that those expenses are only estimates currently.

The majority of revenues for the ESD come in the form of property taxes, projected at $3,107,778. It is an increase over last year’s property tax revenues of $775,309.

Sales tax revenues continue to climb, projected at $570,000 next year. The current year’s adopted sales tax revenue projection was $400,629 but has already surpassed that total through August. If approved, the ESD will fund about $115,900 of the next budget with reserves.

The rollback tax rate for the ESD came in at $0.108069, higher than the legal maximum rate of $0.10 for ESDs in Texas.

The effective tax rate, which would have generated the same amount in property tax revenues as the current year, would have been $0.089911 per $100 property value.

Public hearings for the tax rate are scheduled for Aug. 20 and 27 at Fire Station No. 1, 301 Loop 332. Commissioners will adopt the tax rate and budget Sept. 10.

“We’re growing, there’s no doubt about it. We know every day we have more services on the street than we ever had before,” Lincoln said. “When you look at what’s going on around us it is pretty amazing what these budgets have been able to do for us. I know nobody likes paying taxes, but we’re getting calls now from people who realize that new station is out there and they’re saving a few hundred dollars per year on insurance premiums.”