City council hears pitch for Emergency Medical Services levy

By Oliver Lazenby

Whatcom County voters will decide on an Emergency Medical Services levy this November with a rate of 29.5 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value.

The proposed six-year levy would add $88.50 per year in property taxes for a home valued at $300,000, or $531 over the life of the six-year levy.

The levy would fund a fifth medic unit in Whatcom County, help balance the EMS budget and pay to train additional staff for a fifth unit. EMS currently has four units that respond throughout the county.

Robert Gloriosio, a Blaine resident and president of International Association of Fire Fighters Local 106, presented the levy to Blaine City Council on September 26.

Blaine City Council doesn’t need to make a decision on the levy. The presentation was part of an EMS effort to educate

“Back in 2001 we added a fourth county paramedic unit. The population has grown 22 percent since then,” Glorioso told council. “We’re way past the time when we should have added a fifth medic unit.”

Sales tax, user fees and Whatcom County and city of Bellingham general funds currently support EMS. Whatcom County voters approved a sales tax of 1 cent per $10 purchase in 2005, which was expected to keep the system sustainable through 2011, according to a report by the Whatcom County EMS funding Work Group.

The system has carried on by spending reserves, not implementing the full service recommended in its 2005 plan, and through extra help from the city of Bellingham and Whatcom County.

“We are very, very lean right now,” Glorioso said. “We find ourselves stretched extraordinarily thin.”

The diverse funding work group, which included fire, EMS, city and county officials, studied how best to fund EMS and recommended a levy as the best option in March.

Levies are a common solution for funding EMS in Washington state. There are 175 EMS levy districts in the state and the average levy is 40 cents per $1,000 in assessed value, according to the work group’s report.

If the levy passes, EMS will likely get a fifth paramedic unit in the second half of the levy’s six-year life, Glorioso said.

The levy will also fund a community paramedic program, a new staff position designed to connect frequent EMS users with services that could more efficiently help them. Some use EMS as their sole form of health care.

“Currently I’m dealing with two individuals who call every day if not twice a day,” North Whatcom Fire and Rescue chief Henry Hollander said during the report.

Whatcom Medic One in Bellingham currently has a community paramedic program that has reduced 911 calls significantly, Glorioso said.

The levy needs 60 percent voter approval to pass.

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