JUDGE: Should we have an emergency services district?
This week the Commissioners Court, pursuant to the Health and Safety Code, received a petition to create an emergency service district (ESD) for ground and air ambulance services within the county.
The court will conduct a public hearing on Aug. 8, 2022, at 10 a.m. at the Milam County Courthouse to give everyone an opportunity to speak for or against the district. Thereafter, the Court will take action to put or not put the creation of the district on the Nov. 8, 2022 ballot.
Should the court elect to put this on the ballot, the voters will decide to create or not create a district by a majority vote. We have never had an ESD in the county and thus there are a lot of questions.
1. What is the purpose of the proposed ESD: The purpose of the ESD is to collect a tax from every property owner in Milam County to pay for better ground and air ambulance service in Milam County. Ambulance service in this County and most others, is not a very profitable endeavor. Many who need an ambulance do not have insurance coverage and even those with coverage, have little for ambulance services and thus this is a low or no profit business. Therefore, to have ground and air ambulance services, tax revenue has been used to pay an annual subsidy to our providers.
Currently, county government, the City of Rockdale and the City of Cameron use combined tax revenues in the amount of $350,000 per year to provide a subsidy to our ground ambulance provider, AMR.
In addition the county pays PHI, our air ambulance provider an additional $60,000 per year. In return, AMR provides three ambulances that operate 24 hours per day, 7 days a week and PHI provides free air ambulance service.
The ESD would provide a more equitable manner of paying for these services, as every property owner would pay a small tax, instead of those within the city limits of Rockdale, Cameron and the County. If the ESD is created, Rockdale, Cameron and the County would no longer pay a subsidy. Further, the ESD could raise enough revenue to provide another ambulance.
2. How much tax: The tax rate is capped at ten cents per one hundred dollars of property and is decided by the voters.
For example, if the tax were .10 cents per one hundred dollars, a person with a $100,000 home would pay $100 annually. The funds could be used to increase the service provided by AMR or to eventually start a ground ambulance service operated by the ESD.
It is estimated that a fourth ground ambulance would require an additional subsidy of between $350,000-500,000.
Therefore, the subsidy for four ground ambulances that operate 24/7 combined with the air ambulance subsidy would be between $760,000 and $910,000.
Finally, we will begin operating a “quick response vehicle”(QRV) in the coming weeks, which will be manned by one paramedic.
The QRV will be used in a number of ways to provide emergency medical services to those when an ambulance is not available. The first year of operation will cost about $180,000 which will be paid for with donations from various solar farms in the County and Texas Country Title.
However, the second year of operation will cost about $90,000 for the paramedic and those funds will have to be paid from taxes. ESD funds could be used for this purpose as well, which increases our annual outlay for emergency medical services to about $1 million.
So, do we really need an ESD? Yes, we do! It will cost more to provide more. It is unfair to place this tax burden on a few. The ESD provides equity, in that every property owner will pay their fair share. The bill is simply too high to continue to impose on the limited tax revenue of the County, the City of Rockdale and the City of Cameron.