PALO PINTO – Supporters of a third effort to create a new emergency medical services district serving the east side of Possum Kingdom Lake presented what they thought was a compelling case to have the issue placed on the Nov. 5 ballot.
But the latest attempt ended like the previous one a year ago – with county commissioners rejecting the petition and ballot request on the same basis that duplicated services within an established district cannot be provided, and Emergency Services District No. 1 has no desire to relinquish 911 emergency medical services to a new ESD. The court's vote was 4-1.
About 50 people packed the commissioners courtroom Monday morning, most in support of the petition wanting to create Emergency Services District No. 4 to provide full-time paid 911 ambulance service for the Possum Kingdom East area. That service is currently provided through a contract between ESD No. 1 and Sacred Cross EMS.
ESD No. 1 relies on sales tax collections within the service district, including Possum Kingdom, to pay the bulk of its service contract with Sacred Cross EMS totaling $825,000 annually.
After hearing from two ESD No. 4 supporters, Erin Humphries and Karen Hudson, it was comments from ESD No. 1 attorney John Carlton, of The Carlton Law Firm PLLC in Austin, and those from ESD No. 1 board member Ken Backes, that influenced the vote to once again deny the petition.
Precinct 2 Commissioner Mike Reed made a motion to accept the petition and received a second from County Judge Shane Long, who noted he is a lifelong resident of the PK area and previously served as a PK East Fire/EMS volunteer and board member.
"I have a vested interest," said Judge Long. "I can't deny I come from there."
Despite seconding Reed's motion, Long joined commissioners Gary Glover, Mike Pierce and Jeff Fryer in rejecting the group's petition.
"There are no services for ESD 4 to provide even if a district was created," Carlton told commissioners and those looking on from the galley.
Carlton said if the district were created and they levied a tax to provide emergency ambulance service, "that would land them in trouble and in court," he said.
The attorney said ESD No. 1 last month re-established its statement of services and boundaries to include providing 911 emergency medical service in the PK East area as required under state law.
Humphries and Hudson said they wanted the court to give them a chance to create the district, giving them a better negotiating position with ESD No. 1 if they were an established entity, rather than as individual citizens.
"That identity is what we are seeking here today," Humphries said.
"We believe we have the right to vote," Hudson later stated. "We know the (statement of services) can be amended if we can get the right to vote and pass it. We can have the power of negotiation. We can't do that until we become an entity."
Backes said there is no basis for claims that a new ESD is needed to improve the health, safety and welfare of PK East residents.
"To date, the ESD board has not received any complaints about the quality of care," Backes said.
He referred to 2017 call statistics in the PK East area before Sacred Cross EMS became the provider of EMS service. He said that year there were 144 EMS calls on the lake's east side, with PK East EMS responding to 122 of those calls, and the other 22 listed as no response/no crew available and turned over to mutual aid for response from other agencies – which typically fell to Mineral Wells EMS. Backes said PK East EMS had a response time for calls it did answer that year of 19.6 minutes.
In the first six weeks of 2018, Backes said records show there were 11 EMS calls on the east side of the lake, of which four received no response from PK East EMS. After mid-February, when Sacred Cross EMS took over and began receiving all 911 calls for medical service, they made 109 calls in the area with none missed and an average response time of 19.5 minutes.
Backes said through June 30 of this year, Sacred Cross has made all 82 calls for medical service in the PK East area and improved its average response time by 5 minutes.
Hudson defended PK East EMS' missed calls and response times, noting for the court members are volunteers.
"They work," she said. "They have to put food on the table."
But it was a growing number of missed EMS calls across ESD No. 1's service area and increased reliance on Mineral Wells EMS to go to PK Lake or the Gordon/Strawn areas to implement paid, full-time ambulance service. PK East EMS and Sacred Cross both tendered bids for the district's contract.
"Even if you put it on the ballot and win, nothing is going to happen," said Commissioner Fryer prior to the court's vote.
"We don't have that opportunity until we become an entity," said Humphries.
The first effort to create an ESD for the lake's east side failed in a May 2015 vote.