Pflugerville leaders, ESD personnel in lawsuit over future of city’s EMS funding

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — This November, Pflugerville city and extraterritorial jurisdiction voters could decide whether to join a new emergency services district for EMS services — without city approval of the ballot item.

The Travis County Emergency Services District 17 voted Monday to include an item on the county’s November ballot that proposes annexing the city of Pflugerville and Pflugerville’s ETJ territory into its coverage scope.

ESD 17 was formed in May to provide services for EMS and advanced life support to portions of Austin, Manor and Taylor’s ETJs. The region has the same coverage scope as ESD 2, or the Pflugerville Fire Department, and was created to separate EMS services from fire response funding.

Pflugerville City Council voted in February not to participate in ESD 17’s proposed service scope, citing concerns with the Pflugerville Fire Department’s claims of diminished funds. City leaders are currently conducting their second independent study to determine the future of EMS services within the city, including whether to contract out services or create its own municipal department.

“The action taken by Travis County ESD 17 attempting to annex the City and its ETJ into their jurisdiction precludes these efforts and conflicts with our third-party Fire and EMS Assessment findings that the additional overlay is not needed at this time to fund EMS in Pflugerville.”

city of pflugerville spokesperson

Ahead of ESD 17’s vote Monday, the city of Pflugerville and Pflugerville City Council Member David Rogers filed a lawsuit against ESD 17 for interfering with its jurisdiction and oversight of city and ETJ property. The lawsuit is currently pending within the Travis County 200th Civil District Court.

Why is this debate happening?

The Pflugerville Fire Department reported last summer that, based on current funding projections, it would run out of its financial reserves by fiscal year 2024-25. In September, the Pflugerville Professional Firefighters Association launched a petition for the creation of ESD 17, which received more than 4,000 signatures from Travis County residents.

Mike Howe, president of ESD 17’s board of commissioners, said the largest factor propelling needs for additional funding is the city’s continued growth. December 2020 estimates reported Pflugerville’s population at 74,000, open more than 10% from its 2018 population of 67,000.

Within the same time span, requests for services increased by 20.3%, from 10,600 calls up to nearly 13,000.

What could future funding look like?

The Pflugerville Fire Department, or ESD 2, will continue funding EMS services to Pflugerville residents through Dec. 31. Through the city’s independent study, expected to complete in the fall, city officials said they will then determine whether to contract with an ESD, third party provider or pursue its own municipal department.

“I do not expect the quality or quantity of EMS services to change as of January 1,” said Pflugerville City Council Member Doug Weiss. “The expectation would be that services continue. Whether they’re provided by the city, by the ESD or by a third party, the quality of service to our citizens should not change.”

The city conducted an initial study of EMS services through consultant AP Triton, with results released in June. Those findings indicated “current staffing levels for paramedics exceed industry standards, and the report suggests a cost/benefit analysis to align staffing with actual needs,” per city documents.

Future EMS funding options include:

  • Maintaining current operations: “This option continues the status of service to the jurisdictions without change. Travis County ESD No. 2 and the City of Pflugerville continue to do business as usual, with no change to governance, staffing, or resource deployment,” per city documents.
  • Private city ambulance provider: City officials could contract an agreement with a private provider for EMS services and advanced life support.
  • City-owned third service EMS: The city would serve as ambulance provider through the following scenarios:
    • Using city employees, equipment, ambulances and other resources to provide services
    • Subcontract services to a private ambulance provider
    • A combination of the first two
  • Transport services via Austin-Travis County EMS
  • Establishing a city fire and EMS services department

Why annexation?

Howe said the board’s decision to include the annexation proposal on the November ballot comes down to giving voters the opportunity to make their own decisions via voting.

The initial petition surrounding the creation of ESD 17 garnered more than 4,000 signatures, while the most recent annexation petitions collected approximately 80 signatures. Howe said residents should be able to vote without city intervention.

“The most important thing about the election is that the people have a right to choose how those services are delivered,” he said, adding: “The most important thing is making sure services continue to be delivered, and how those get funded are still open questions until we know more information.”

What are next steps?

The city of Pflugerville’s lawsuit, filed Aug. 10, will continue to make its way through the Travis County 200th Civil District Court. City officials have requested a “temporary and permanent injunction” to prevent ESD 17 from “creating ESD jurisdiction, territory, and imposing taxes within the City s boundaries or ETJ,” per legal documents.

A hearing in the 200th Civil District Court is scheduled for Aug. 23 at 8:35 a.m., according to the district clerk.

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