Supermajority Passes Permanent EMS Fire Department Levy

In the days before the election, voters expressed concern to the fire department about paying more permanently, but the public retains control.


Photo: Anne Nesbit

Key Peninsula voters approved an emergency medical services levy run by the KP fire department in the Aug. 6 election. Out of 3,729 votes cast, 63 percent were for approval of the levy, with all precincts voting yes. Despite the low voter turnout, the 60 percent supermajority threshold required to pass a levy was reached.

The existing EMS levy, approved by voters in 2010, will expire in 2020 but the board of fire commissioners that oversees the department wanted to ask for a permanent EMS levy to add predictability to the budget and save the expense of repeatedly putting it on the ballot, according to Fire Chief Dustin Morrow.

“The board felt that the public resources we were using to run those campaigns could be better used for direct EMS services,” Morrow said. “We’re going to be close to $15,000 for this election.”

KP Fire Dept. Public Information Officer Anne Nesbit said, “We have a significant population that lives on a fixed income and the concept of another 25 bucks a month could have a very big impact, and we get that. There was anxiety about ‘permanency’ too, but that doesn’t mean you never have a say.”

Making the levy permanent will require a new level of transparency for the department and the levy is only permanent until a voter-initiated referendum to change or remove it, she said.

"The bottom line is this is our opportunity to demonstrate how we’re going to perform."

“Every two years we’ll now have to put a report card in front of the community that says we collected X amount of revenue dedicated toward EMS activities, this is how we applied it, and here’s where we’re at,” Morrow said. “There was no reporting requirement like that for the last 10 years; when you go permanent, you have to provide it every two years at no cost to the public and make it readily available. And if they don’t like it, a referendum can make it all go away.”

The new levy has the same rate as the existing levy that will expire next year, charging property owners 50 cents per $1,000 of the current assessed value, but as the value goes up and down, the rate of collection fluctuates.

“The current levy of 50 cents per $1,000 was set nine years ago,” Morrow said. “Right now, we’re collecting at about 40.2 cents per $1,000 based on how the assessed valuation has climbed. When we reset it with this approval back up at 50 cents per thousand it’s going to ping against the new assessed value, and that will generate new money for us.”

The department estimated that under the expiring levy property worth $250,000 costs the owner $100 per year. Under the new levy, that annual cost would be $125. The annual EMS budget is a little over $1 million, about 20 percent of the overall budget, Morrow said. The new levy is expected to generate about $63,000 the first year.

“Everybody here is either an EMT or paramedic on the crew side and we have some volunteer EMTs as well,” he said. About 80 percent of KP emergency calls are medical, consistent across the fire service.

“We have a model that immediately increases staffing based upon the new revenue,” Morrow said. “If we can get everything else to pencil out, we’re going to hit ‘go’ as fast as we can.”

Those plans include adding a third ambulance. “Right now, the data suggests that needs to be in the south end of the peninsula, but I don’t have it all mapped out and I don’t have approval for that yet; it all looks good but we won’t know probably until late this fall if we can actually do it,” Morrow said.

“I don’t plan to wait until the end of the two-year cycle to report on what we’re doing, I want to keep it in front of the community,” he said. “The bottom line is this is our opportunity to demonstrate how we’re going to perform. The community has provided us with the resources and now it’s our job to be thankful and improve the service we provide now. I want to get busy and have people see within the next 12, 24, 36 months that we’re on an upward trend and that passing the EMS levy was well worth it.”

Editor's note: Anne Nesbit's name was spelled incorrectly in the print edition. We apologize for the error.