Whatcom County Measure
Proposition No. 2016-1
Regular Property Tax Levy for Emergency Medical Services
Official Ballot Title
The Whatcom County Council passed Ordinance 2016-019 concerning funding for the countywide Emergency Medical Services system. Will Whatcom County be authorized to impose regular property tax levies of $0.295 or less per thousand dollars of assessed valuation for each of six consecutive years, with collection beginning in 2017, for the continued provision of emergency medical services?
Imagine waking in the middle of the night feeling short of breath and with pain in your chest. You call 911, and within minutes your local fire department EMTs have arrived to begin care. A short while later, paramedics are at your home to stabilize you and transport you to the hospital. This scenario happens every day in our community. In November, Whatcom County residents will be asked to vote on an emergency medical services (EMS) levy to maintain this lifesaving system.
Currently, our county emergency medical system is funded by user fees, sales tax revenue and the Whatcom County and Bellingham general funds. In recent years, this funding method has been unable to keep up with population growth, reductions in federal reimbursements for medical transport and rising medical equipment costs. Whatcom County is the only county in Washington state that still funds EMS from the general fund. We need to put in place a stable, sustainable revenue source that will allow our emergency medical services to keep up with growth.
Proposition 1 – the EMS levy on this November’s ballot – is a reasonable solution to fund Whatcom County’s system. The levy will provide training and lifesaving equipment for paramedics, expanding the system so we can continue to reach you quickly in an emergency. It will centralize management of the system to reduce duplication among agencies. The levy will also support a community paramedic to help reduce calls from frequent system users, connecting them with social services.
In recent years, our local fire departments have had to step in to take some of the load from increasing emergency call volumes. This has put a big strain on county districts that have relied on volunteer first responders. Some fire districts have put in place local EMS levies to help hire paid personnel so we can continue to reach you quickly. The EMS levy on this November’s ballot is a separate measure that will continue to provide paramedic service to the entire county.
Our fourth countywide paramedic unit was added in 2001, and since then our population has grown by over 22 percent. To address the challenge to our strained EMS system, a group of fire officials, labor leaders and representatives from the small cities, Bellingham and Whatcom County worked together for 15 months. The EMS levy was unanimously approved as the best solution to provide stable funding to maintain our system.
No matter who you are or where you are – a farm outside of Lynden, the top of Mount Baker, or a boat in Bellingham Bay – this levy allows EMTs and paramedics to continue to reach you quickly throughout Whatcom County. A fast response in an emergency saves lives. If the levy doesn’t pass, service will be cut and our communities will be impacted. We ask for your continued support to keep Whatcom County EMS responding at the level of service we have come to expect.
Statement prepared by RobRoy Graham, Fire Commissioner, Whatcom County Fire District 14, and Erica Work, Chair, EMS Saves Lives Campaign Committee.
STOP accepting the status quo as proposed by our politicians. Vote NO on this premature EMS Levy. Although the ballot states “for the continued provision of emergency medical services,” this is not accurate. When this current EMS levy fails, your level of service will not be affected. This levy is to expand future capacity and hire an administrator. Unstated is what plans the county and city of Bellingham have for the “freed-up money” this levy would relieve from their general fund. Send a message to the tax-and-spend crowd; tell them we cannot blindly pay more taxes in order to fund this ill-timed and unnecessary increase in EMS services.
LOOK at your property tax bill to see how much you are currently paying for EMS and fire services. “Even renters pay property taxes as part of their rent. Property taxes cannot be avoided,” Councilwoman Barbara Brenner has stated. Property taxes impact the elderly, folks on a fixed income and the working poor the hardest. And in this weak economy we don’t need to spend more in order to maintain our current high level of service.
Before an additional EMS levy is passed, a new review committee needs to be convened with fewer elected officials and more informed citizens. Remember that the EMS system was started by an emergency room doctor in Seattle in 1972. This created Seattle Medic One, which increased the survivability outcome for heart-attack patients. It has since been copied all over the nation. Since 1972, we eat more healthfully, exercise more, smoke less, and many people are trained in cardio pulmonary resuscitation. Automatic external defibrillators (AED) have been developed and deployed. These AED’s are available in many public places and some businesses. Today every firefighter is a highly trained emergency medical technician. Technological advances and personal choices have changed what was originally needed. Therefore this new committee should ask how our model and level of service compare to Yakima, Skagit, Clark, Chelan and Stevens counties.
Don’t be fooled. The time to vote on a levy is after EMS efficiencies have been studied and enhanced productivity is underway. The EMS levy is not to fill an immediate need, nor is there a crisis. Executive Louws has stated that the county can continue to fund its share of the EMS revenue shortfall from the general fund.
Statement prepared by Ray Baribeau, a Whatcom County resident.