AUSTIN - Over 9,000 Travis County homes and businesses may soon be able to get help from firefighters faster.
The Austin Fire Department is now in negotiations to annex Travis County ESD 4, following approval by city council earlier this month.
"To my citizens, if the tax dollars are the same and you can buy the city of Austin, why would you not. And that's the case we're trying to make," said Travis County ESD 4 Chief David Bailey. He took the job last year after 30 years with the Austin Fire Department.
To understand why he wants AFD to annex his department, you have to trace back to 1985 when ESD 4 covered 100 square miles of a primarily rural area.
By 2009, its coverage area looked like six distinct so-called "islands".
"Since 2001 alone, 52 times the city of Austin has reached in and got a piece," said Bailey.
With that land, comes the tax revenue that goes with it.
"That's how an ESD 4 dies a slow painful death by contracting until there's not a lot of resources left to fund that," said Bailey.
Bailey said the distance those land grabs create, also creates danger. To demonstrate just how far away the stations are from the neighborhoods they serve, our KVUE cameras drove one of the department's longest routes.
It began at station seven on City Park Road. Firefighters were dispatched to a call for three people with burns at the YMCA near Mc Neil High School.
Without emergency lights and the ability to disobey certain traffic laws, it took our crew 26 minutes to go the 16 miles the ESD 4 engine traveled that day.
Bailey said that's too far when lives are on the line. He added "Instead of three stations, Austin has 46 stations. Instead of my 30 people, they've got a thousand people."
His 30 people will likely be integrated into AFD as long as they complete an amended fire academy. The people they serve won't pay another penny in the deal.
Bailey added, "Your rates can't go up. Your taxes won't go up, but the depth and breadth of the services and the department that you're buying for that same dollar is greatly enhanced."
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