This August, Key Peninsula voters will have the choice to make the fire district’s longstanding emergency medical services levy permanent.
The current levy was approved in 2010 with around 80 percent of voters opting to continue funding emergency services through property taxes. According to Fire Chief Dustin Morrow, the community’s support of the EMS levy has encouraged the district to give voters the option of making it part of the district’s standard tax intake. This will help the department to budget and plan more consistently.
Previous elections renewed the levy for 10 years at a time. The new levy going to voters in August would take the current tax rate of 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value and make it permanent.
“It seems like it’s time for us to go to the community and say, ‘Is this part of the regular funding mechanism that can be in place for the fire department all the time?’ ” Morrow said. Making the switch would also eliminate elections for levy renewal. “It isn’t really cheap to do (this) every 10 years,” he said. “There are taxes that are collected and spent on running these levy processes.”
The dollars collected from the levy will go toward EMS equipment and personnel. According to Morrow, the high cost of medications and disposable equipment—oxygen masks, intravenous solutions and tubing, EKG patches, bulk bandaging supplies—means that every call can come at significant expense. “In the grand scheme of things, it’s nothing to save a life, right? But I think people might be surprised at what some of the costs are that go with that,” Morrow said.
The replacement of one or more ambulances is also under consideration. “Our vehicles honestly are leaning towards the end of their service capability,” Morrow said. Because of complex systems and safety features, a new ambulance can easily cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. “So, from an equipment standpoint, we could benefit from some replacement pieces for sure.”
However, this levy is about maintaining the current level of service while making gradual improvements to keep emergency medical response running smoothly. “I think our EMS delivery system for the KP is pretty robust and on the right track, but we could benefit from an infusion of a little more money and a little bit more program expansion,” Morrow said.
Morrow noted that the public has expressed broad approval for the EMS levy through the years. “A lot of the interactions we have with the community when they call for assistance are EMS related, so they can relate to it really well,” he said. “We have a really supportive community.”
Morrow also praised the KP residents’ willingness to offer whatever help they can, monetary or otherwise. “Several times we’ve had people that have asked, ‘What else can we do? Are there other ways we can get resources in your hands so you can help somebody else when they call?’ ”
Although the rate would technically stay the same, this new permanent levy would bring in extra revenue for FD16. Washington State law allows only a one percent increase in taxes collected from year to year. This means that if a property tax collects $100,000 in its first year, the next year it can only collect $101,000, regardless of increases in property value. This means that as assessed values increase, the tax rate actually decreases significantly. Reapproving the EMS levy at fifty cents per thousand will apply that rate to the current year’s property values, raising the cap and giving the fire department a funding boost.
The levy election will be on August 6th through mail-in or drop-off ballots. The proposition will require a 60 percent supermajority to pass, and turnout must equal at least 40 percent of the last general election for the vote to be valid.