Ballots go out this week for paramedic levy
SNOHOMISH - Ballots will be mailed out July 18 for Snohomish Fire District 4’s emergency medical services levy renewal.
Because of dropping property values, the Fire Department can’t maintain current paramedic service levels without asking for a revenue increase, Fire Chief Ron Simmons said.
The department is asking for an increase of 15 cents per $1,000 assessed home value. This increases the current rate of 35 cents to 50 cents, the maximum allowed by state law. The average homeowner of a $300,000 home will pay about $155 a year, Simmons said.
The department’s emergency medical services (EMS) levy expires at the end of the year. The levy will be on the August primary ballot. Ballots are due Aug. 6.
The levy needs a simple majority to pass.
“(Passing the levy) is extremely important because we’ve lost revenue over the last six years,” fire commission chair Jim Schmoker said.
The department has not been able to fully fund EMS, and so it has been forced to borrow funds from other places, Schmoker said.
“The most critical (place we’ve borrowed) is from the equipment replacement fund, and we just can’t do that very long,” he said.
Not only is revenue collected from property taxes down, Schmoker said, but the cost of the paramedic program is higher.
“Labor, health-care cost, everything,” Schmoker said. “Everything has gone up.”
If the levy passes, the department will collect $1.4 million in 2014. But that’s only $114,000 more than what was collected in 2007, Simmons said.
Twenty percent of the operating budget comes from the EMS levy, but 71 percent of calls to the department are calls for paramedic services. The calls include everything from elderly people who have fallen to major traumas like heart attacks.
“Anything you could consider a medical problem, that’s what the EMS levy pays for,” Simmons said.
If the levy doesn’t pass, the fire board has already decided to run it again in November with the hopes that it will pass then.
But if it ultimately does not pass, Simmons said the board has already looked at the major cuts that would have to be made. Four full-time firefighters would be let go and one of the three stations would have to be closed. Four part-time positions would also likely be cut, Simmons said.
“The bottom line is that folks need to look and decide whether they foresee sometime down the road that they might need our services,” Simmons said. “We’re kind of like an insurance policy. The biggest fear we have is if we have a car wreck, or something like the stabbing situation at the high school, our fear is we’ll end up in one of those situations and not have paramedics readily available, in which case we’re looking at worse case scenarios where people may not survive.”
“We want to be able to continue maintaining our services to the public,” Simmons said. “But regardless of what happens with the levy, we’re going to do our best.”
The fire board will meet Monday, July 22 to discuss budget and personnel issues, but Simmons said anyone is welcome to attend and ask questions about the levy.
The board meets at 7 p.m. in the Walsh Room at Fire Station No. 43 at 1525 Ave. D.
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