As first responders to fires, rescue and medical emergencies, the Bergheim Volunteer Fire Department strives to exceed the expectations of its community and provide the highest quality compassionate service to preserve and protect lives, property and the environment.
The beautiful Hill Country in and around Cordillera Ranch is one of the most sought-after areas in one of the fastest growing counties in Texas, drawing families from all over the country. Adam Hawkins, the Chief of the Bergheim Volunteer Fire Department (BVFD), and his staff are passionate about serving and protecting the area to the highest of standards, but adequately protecting people, property and businesses within a 58-square-mile area has grown increasingly difficult in recent years. As a volunteer fire department funded primarily by donations, and about $100,000 from Kendall County each year, it has become necessary to secure a sustainable and permanent funding source through the establishment of an Emergency Services District (ESD).
In 2004, a group of concerned citizens comprised of Steve Koronczok, Scott Shaheen and J.W. Pieper gathered to explore the viability of a volunteer fire station in Eastern Kendall County. This organizing committee grew support from other local residents and Kendall County Commissioner Gene Miertschin-Precinct 2 assisted in obtaining a land deed from the county to build the fire station. The BVFD received its first call on June 1, 2009, along with 57 additional calls that year. That number has rapidly increased and the BVFD has been the first responder to fire and medical emergencies at homes and serious auto accidents in this area ever since. Between January and July of 2022, 334 calls have been serviced, which is only 52 calls shy of the total from 2021.
To address the growing demand and better meet the community’s needs, the BVFD filed a petition signed by more than 300 neighbors from its response area to the Commissioners Court requesting a spot on the upcoming election ballot, which would allow residents in the district to vote on a measure to create an ESD to cover the Bergheim area. “It would give us financial stability to grow with the community. We have to do something different to guarantee funds to guarantee service all the time,” said Hawkins. On July 11, 2022, Kendall County Commissioners voted to unanimously approve the request and this November 8, 2022, voters will decide if the BVFD will become Kendall County Emergency Services District 1.
A Kendall County ESD 1 would be allowed to collect property taxes to fund emergency services in our community. The new ESD would only support the BVFD and funds could not be directed to other communities or county initiatives. This would mean ESD tax dollars of the property owners in the ESD service area would fund the costs of a more appropriately-staffed fire department and the replacement of unsafe and outdated equipment per National Fire Protection Association requirements. It could also mean an improved ISO rating resulting in lower insurance premiums for homeowners and those who operate businesses within the new district.
“We are appreciative of the persistence by Chief Hawkins, Board President Jeff Heffstadt and the entire Board of Directors of the BVFD to push forward with the arduous process of forming Kendall County ESD 1; there is no doubt that it will pay dividends in protecting the citizens of the area for years to come,” notes Charlie Hill, President of Cordillera Ranch Development Corp. “The BVFD has been stretched thin for many years with limited resources, yet an enormous area to serve and we’re happy to support their efforts in getting the ESD approved and formed, which will help them add staffed firefighters and potentially life-saving equipment. As the largest property tax-payer (and residents) in the proposed ESD, we recognize you can’t put a price tag on ensuring emergency services will be there when you or loved ones need them the most,” added Hill.
If passed, the Kendall County Commissioners Court will appoint an ESD board of five tax-paying residents and property owners within the district and response area. From there, the ESD board will look at the appraised value of the district, determine what they feel are the needs of the BVFD and set the tax rate. In Texas, the maximum tax rate for ESDs is ten cents per $100 of the assessed value of a property. Hawkins said, “We hired an ESD consultant and worked with him and our officers to create different scenarios for our station’s growth and service based on 10 cent, 7.5 cent, 5.0 cent and 2.5 cent tax increases.”
Other factors are considered as well. For example, if the ESD board sets an initial 5.0 cent tax rate and in future years needs to increase it, it would require another vote of the people if the proposed tax exceeds the Senate Bill 2 limit, which caps property tax increases to 3.5% a year. Once the ESD is formed, another funding option would become possible that could shift the burden from property owners in the district that doesn’t exist for volunteer fire departments. Emergency Services Districts can petition residents for the authority to collect a sales and use tax not to exceed the state maximum of 8.25%. With a growing number of commercial properties developing in the district, this would allow people who travel to and through our community to contribute to the emergency services they use while they are here. Many ESD’s across Texas have been able to freeze or even lower their property tax rate with the addition of sales tax revenues.
“Any amount we receive will increase the service we can provide. Our goal is consistency in response. Additionally, permanent staff and new equipment will provide more capability, which is a notch towards lowering our ISO,” said Hawkins, whose current volunteer roster totals 24, with only seven volunteers living within the response area.
At the election, the community will decide whether or not to establish an ESD. Hawkins said that “the community, including Cordillera Ranch Development, has been very supportive of the initiative so far.”
If you have questions about the Bergheim Volunteer Fire Department, contact Chief Adam Hawkins at 210.885.2406.
Bergheim Volunteer Fire Department bergheimvfd.org