OPINION: Fire District 5 levy would fund essential needs of district

Last EMS levy approved in 1991

Letter to the editor,

So many times during the year people call 911 and ask for help from Grays Harbor Fire District 5 paramedics, EMTs, Emergency Medical Responders and firefighters and now they need help from the voters of Fire District 5.

On the Nov. 8 ballot, voters will see Grays Harbor Fire Protection District 5 – Proposition 1 asking the citizens if the Fire District should be allowed to collect an annual EMS regular property tax levy of 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed value to help fund equipment, supplies, maintenance, training and staffing.

Based on the current assessed values of the Fire District, if approved it would bring in approximately $280,000 annually for six years to help fund the emergency medical services of the Fire District. State law only allows fire districts to get funding through an EMS levy. In 1991, voters approved Initiative 747 that took the annual property tax increase limit from 6 percent to 1 percent, but it also stated if you need more you can ask the voters and that is what Fire District 5 is doing now. That initiativ’se impact on fire service was huge when considering the cost for services isn’t staying at or below 1 percent each year.

The last time the citizens of District 5 approved an EMS levy was in 1991 for 25 cents per $1,000 of assessed value on property taxes. That expired in 1997. Though more than 50 percent of the voters of Fire District 5 voted in favor of the previous EMS levy requests, it failed because it must have a minimum of 60 percent in favor of the proposition in order for it to pass by state law. It just missed getting that.

One of the questions many ask is, “What will the money be used for?” Under state law the funds only can be used for emergency medical care and/or emergency medical services.

If passed the levy will allow the District to establish an Ambulance Transport Membership program for all the citizens of Fire District 5. The program allows the Fire District to accept a person’s medical insurance payment as payment in full and not bill to the patient or their families. Currently most medical insurances cover a maximum of 60 percent to 80 percent of billing, leaving the patient to pay the rest out of their own pocket. The average cost that could be put back on a citizen is $173 to $733 for each local transport.

The funds collected also can be used for EMS equipment such as replacing the gurneys with modern power gurneys along with supplies, including things like advanced life support medications used by the paramedics of the Fire District, EMS training for the EMTs and paramedics and personnel cost, as well as maintenance of the EMS equipment and ambulances. The district also has seen a major increase in calls for service from the public during the past five years, and with the declining volunteer membership of fire departments nationwide, the district needs to fund improvements to staffing — volunteers and part-time responders — to continue meeting the needs of citizens.

Voters two years ago approved an Ambulance Purchase Bond that allowed the district to purchase two new ambulances, and though they are new there is maintenance cost to keep them running well and the warranty will be ending soon, so the cost of any repairs will be on the fire district.

The other question that is asked is, “If they haven’t had this levy why does the fire district need it now?” Grays Harbor Fire District 5 has needed this levy for a number of years and as stated above it just didn’t get the 60 percent approval it needed, so the district has had to ignore other areas of need, like fire trucks not being replaced or maintained like they should have been, replacing extremely old equipment such as fire hose from the 1960s and purchasing EMS equipment — the gurney in the ambulances that cost approximately $17,000 each, replacing four heart monitors that are being used past their life expectancy that cost $33,000 each.

For the last 19-plus years the Fire District has had to operate without EMS levy funding from property owners of the Fire District but now it has come time to help make sure the paramedics, EMT’s and firefighters have the equipment, supplies, training and help they need.

As with every ballot measure it is vital everyone gets his or her vote tuned in. Remember that in order for this levy to pass, it must have at least 60 percent approval. Remember to vote by Nov. 8.

If you have questions I encourage you to contact the Fire District for more information.