Proposed ESD tax rate is state max, higher than rollback rate


Williamson County ESD Commissioners later this month will consider adopting a tax rate of $0.10 per $100 property valuation — the maximum rate allowed by state law.

During a regular meeting Tuesday, ESD #4 commissioners discussed a proposed $1.2 million budget for the coming fiscal year that includes a 2 percent step pay increase for employees. While the budget is in the early stages of preparation, Commissioner Dean Andrews commended Fire

Chief Bruce Watson for his efforts and noted that the fact that about 70 percent of the expenditures are personnel-related is commendable.

“The fact that 70 percent is going to personnel is indicative to what is important to our operation,” Andrews said.

While Watson’s budget included a capital expense of about $345,000 for a new Custom 1250 Pumper truck that can hold 1,000 gallons of water, Andrews said he thought the first priority should be “taking care of staff.”

“I’d rather take care of staff and be one vehicle short,” Andrews said. “I don’t want us to be in a position where we have to borrow money to meet payroll.”

Watson assured the Board that borrowing money to pay firefighters would not be needed. He said his budget plan does include a 2 percent step pay increase for employees, and the budget reflects higher costs of health insurance, more training and the replacement and/or repair of bunker gear.

A new pumper truck would replace the 10-year-old vehicle the ESD currently owns. If a new vehicle is purchased, the older one would be put in reserve, he said. The purchase is something that the Board agreed would be more timely in January 2012 — about the time the District collects a great deal of its revenue from property taxes.

“I like the idea of having a plan,” Andrews said.

Commissioner Emory Martin said he thought the community would be supportive of the purchase if people knew it meant paying only $1 more per household.

“I think everyone would want to pay that for added protection,” added Commissioner Dana Ripley.

Last month, the Board agreed to sell its rescue truck for $90,000 to the Bertram Volunteer Fire Department. The ESD no longer had a need for that type vehicle and Gatlin said the money from that sale could be used toward the lease or purchase of another vehicle at some point.

Early in the discussion, Andrews said he wanted to see a more detailed budget proposal before adopting a tax rate. Treasurer Gene Gatlin said he thought the ESD could hold the line on expenses and bring in enough operating revenue if commissioners adopted the effective tax rate of $0.097 per $100 valuation.

While commissioners did not adopt a tax rate Tuesday, there was some consensus after hearing Watson’s budget plan that the Board needed to set the rate at the maximum allowed by state law in order to meet higher personnel expenses.

The Legislature has capped the tax rate for emergency services districts at $0.10 per $100 property valuation.

“I think I’m changing my mind about the $0.097 rate,” Gatlin said, adding that the difference would amount to about $30,000.

“I think we ought to stay at 10 cents myself,” added Ms. Ripley.

Watson said that although he had made every effort to find more affordable health insurance for employees, the cheapest rates appeared to be through the Texas Municipal League. While the TML is currently the insurance provider for the district, those costs are set to increase in the new fiscal year.

“If what he (Watson) tells us about health insurance increasing is true, I don’t mind sticking our neck out for $30,000,” Andrews said.

Increased insurance costs combined with a proposed 2 percent step pay increase will increase the personnel budget by about 19 percent over the current fiscal year, Watson said.

As has been the case in years past, ESD employees have earned a 2 percent pay increase on their hiring date anniversary each year. The salary schedule also includes increases in pay from one rank to the next. Watson said he did not schedule himself to receive a pay raise.

Watson said he would also like commissioners to consider turning a part-time training position into a full-time job. The Board agreed last year to hire one person on a part-time hourly basis to coordinate the training of emergency personnel. It was believed that by holding more training opportunities in Liberty Hill, the district can save money.

“This is not a new position,” Watson said. “This person would just be going full-time rather than an hourly rate.”

Watson said the budget proposal also includes additional funds to replace or repair bunker gear, which must be maintained at certain standards of protection for firefighters.

On the revenue side, Watson projected income at $1.298 million. Most of those funds are generated by property taxes. But other income is derived from permitting inspections, Revenue Rescue and some grants.

A report from Williamson County Appraisal District shows the total taxable value in the fire district, which runs concurrent with the Liberty Hill Independent School District, is down by about $9 million from 2010. Total taxable value in 2011 is $1.22 million compared to $1.229 million in 2010.

The Board voted to hold a public hearing on a proposed tax rate at 6:30 p.m. August 30. A meeting to adopt a budget and set a tax rate will be 6:30 p.m. Sept. 6. Both meetings will be held at the fire station.

In other business Tuesday, Gatlin told the Board that at the end of July, the district had spent 87 percent of its budget for the fiscal year, which ends at the end of September. With estimated expenditures of $180,000 remaining in the fiscal year, he said there was a balance of $800,000 in cash on hand, which included proceeds from the sale of the rescue truck.

Andrews said that in the areas where the ESD appears to be over budget, amendments should be adopted by mid-September so that everything can “balance out” by year’s end.

Gatlin said one of the areas that should be amended is insurance where the ESD is already $7,000 over budget.

Also Monday, Watson reported that firefighters had responded to 51 calls for service from July 19 through August 11 with 57 percent of those calls being medical calls. The average response time was 8.23 minutes.