You Get What You Pay For

In Texas, we have a strong tradition of limited government.  In particular, we limit the role of county government.  In most counties, county government provides law enforcement, jails, courts, and roads.  Because of the limits placed on county government by the Texas Constitution as well as the limited source of funds available to county government (primarily property tax revenues), the majority of county governments in Texas do not directly provide fire or EMS services.  In response to the need to fund fire and EMS services for smaller communities and/or unincorporated areas of the county, the Texas Legislature authorizes the creation of Emergency Services Districts (ESDs).   ESDs have the authority to levy a property tax to provide fire and/or EMS protection within their boundaries. That tax is up to ten cents per one hundred dollars of property value.

North Hays County ESD #1 is the Emergency Services District that serves Dripping Springs and much of the rest of northwestern Hays County.  They currently tax their property at a rate of 2.52 cents per one hundred dollars of property value.  They are holding an election on May 7 to raise the tax rate to a maximum of seven cents per hundred dollars of property value to continue funding EMS in their district.  Currently, San Marcos/Hays County EMS is their contracted EMS provider and, like many EMS systems, faces increasing call volume as well as increasing costs of providing EMS in the district.  (Disclosure: I formerly worked as a part-time medic for San Marcos/Hays County EMS. I have also responded with San Marcos/Hays County EMS on mutual aid with another EMS service in the area.)

Enter the local state representative in the area — a man named Jason Isaac. Mr. Isaac has come out publicly against the tax increase and is pandering to a reactionary anti-tax element of a conservative electorate.  Heck, I’m pretty conservative.  Those that know me have described me as a fiscal conservative, socially libertarian, and a neo-conservative hawk on foreign policy.  I’m no Bernie Sanders here.

If Mr. Isaac is truly concerned about the actions of the ESD, he would know that the Texas Department of Agriculture has information about the formation and operation of ESDs.  But it’s easier to put out posts on social media addressing an issue where the accountability lies with local government.  I thought that Texas conservatives favored local control and local solutions for local problems?

But there are some very legitimate roles for government to play, particularly local government. One expectation that all of us have, save for a few anarchists, is for our 911 calls to be answered and for help to come.  Better yet, we expect competent providers to deliver compassionate and clinically appropriate emergency medical care.  San Marcos/Hays County EMS has delivered that care to Hays County for years, including the residents of North Hays County ESD #1.  I’m standing for quality EMS, not sound-bites designed to appeal to fears about property taxes.


  1. Wes, the hard part of conservatism is that it has been infected by folks like Mr. Issac who want everything but don’t want to pay for it.

  2. Bob Kellow says:

    I conducted several ambulance procurements on behalf of Live Oak County TX over the years. The country only has 11,867 residents located primarily in George West (county seat) and three Rivers. Their greatest source of revenue is a Valero refinery in Three Rivers. It was just a sleepy, dusty little county with few residents and no money for quality EMS.

    They decided to go with an ESD referendum, and won handily, taxing at 6-cents. And, it was created solely for the provision of EMS. Then, the Eagle Ford shale was discovered! As a result, they were awash in money and spending around $900K per year for a legitimate ambulance provider. I have no idea what they do now that the oil and gas production has halted, but with all things oil-based, it’s either feast of famine.

  3. So I must admit, I don’t understand how this system of ESDs is a “small government” solution. Instead of having the county (which already has a tax collection apparatus in place) provide the service, you create an ad-hoc entity to do it instead, which must in turn create its own tax collection apparatus. Why is this a better way to go about things?

    • Bob Kellow says:

      One big difference is that elected officials are prohibited from serving on ESD Boards, thus they’re managed by community leaders, rather than politicians.