Emergency services districts ask voters for additional funding

Firefighters and medics answer a call: in the 17000 Block of Lighthouse in Newport

CROSBY – This Saturday an official ballot will be held to determine if local voters would increase the sales tax by one percent to fund local emergency medics and one percent to fund the Crosby Volunteer Fire Dept.

The vote will be held from 7:00 a.m. until 7:00 p.m. at the Crosby ISD Administration Building (Boardroom) at 706 Runneburg Rd.

The move would increase sales taxes from 6.25¢ per $1.00 purchased or used to 8.25¢ sales tax on a dollar if both measures pass. Emergency Service Districts (ESD) are a local board that regulates taxes for Harris County to provide an emergency service to local areas.

Those opposing increased taxes are polarized from quality demanding voters.

According to Indian Shores resident, John Nobles, “On May 15, ESD#5 and ESD#80 (ambulance and fire departmentsÐCrosby) are asking us to allow them to dig even deeper into the tax payers’ pockets. They are already collecting money from our property taxes —and now they want even more in the form of an additional sales tax for the Crosby area. Considering the obsession that Harris County Appraisal District and its leadership have for artificially inflating our property values, the two ESD units can reasonably expect to see a revenue increase of at least 10% every year. They do not need to add a new sales tax to our already overtaxed budgets. On May 15, Just say no to any new or increased taxes.”

Don Richardson of Harris County ESD#5 Board (ambulance service) indicates however that if the sales tax goes into effect the burden of cost for the medics service and the fire dept. can be spread to everyone buying products in Crosby. In that case he and his fellow board members on ESD#5 can reduce the property taxes from the 3¢ per $100 valuation property tax payers are being taxed.

This reporter caught up with Houston Hooper, General Manager of Crosby medics to press the question of would ESD#5 Ambulance Service go bankrupt if the issue does not pass and what would then happen. Both Hooper and Richardson quote their services attorney as having estimated that the sales tax would increase their service’s revenue by about $100,000 per year.

“Probably later on we would go bankrupt, maybe not now but later on Ð some months down the road. This area would then go up for bids for any ambulance service in Harris County that wanted to provide the service. What you would probably end up with is the lowest bidder. Now the question is, do you want fully trained paramedics like we have now working on every shift or do you want the $6.00 an hour ambulance worker operating on you and your family in time of crisis or critical conditions. The service we have now has full access to Harris County Health Dept. With a phone call I can access immunologists, HAZMAT, I can have doctors come out here of any description if there is reason enough. If another service comes in here they are going to put in just enough personnel to keep the state happy. We are held to a higher standard. We are not only held to a TDH standard we are held to a Harris County Dept. of Health Standard, we are a 911 provider, plus this is such a small community we are held to a higher community standard.”

During the time this reporter has covered this area, tracked reaction times for ambulances has reduced from about 25 minutes to 40 minutes on average for Crosby EMS to about 7 minutes 31 seconds on average for ESD#5 ambulances. “When I was in service in the early 80’s around 300 calls per year was what we expected, now we get 130 to 150 a month. We are growing by leaps and bounds out here. Many of the calls we get are for people passing through it only seems fair that we should shift the tax burden more to those using the service than those who live out here,” stated Don Richardson explaining increasing costs.

When asked how he is spending the money Hooper answers, “Our financial records are open to public scrutiny. Anyone can look at how we spend our money. But their are a lot of expenses that the public doesn’t know about. On a good month we may collect 40% of the amount we bill to insurance companies, that 40% is a great percentage for ambulance services in Harris County. Insurance doesn’t pay like it once did. A private ambulance service would check to see if your insurance was good enough to transport you before they rolled. We transport Medicaid that pays about $56 per transport and Medicare which may pay up to about $400 per transport, a transport can run as much as $1600 in costs to us. Our payroll runs about $30,000 per month for everyone. Plus vehicle fuel, equipment, insurance on each vehicle is about $60,000 per year and everything we use in a patient is disposable.”

Crosby VFD is funded by ESD#80, they collect about 5¢ per $100 property valuation. Last year, Crosby VFD reduced the ISO rating from about 9 to about 4 district wide and thus enabled property owners to reduce their fire insurance premium. That was a record setting reduction for Harris County.

Crosby receives no money from Harris County wide funding, Emergency Service Districts regulate all the tax funding to go to a local entity and taken only from that area. If the issue passes, the sales tax would be effective in 30 days. The money collected from the sales tax would be available in October. The ESD#5 and ESD#80 Boards, all composed of local residents, could then begin to reduce property taxes as each October, the boards must determine the tax rates.

Problems affecting the rising costs of emergency service providers are becoming nationwide. A federal program is being discussed to go into effect in about 2025 to help bear the burden of rising costs and increasingly less reimbursement for emergency services.