Taking a closer look at the Whatcom County emergency services levy

Whatcom County voters will determine if a six-year property tax will fund Emergency Medical Services throughout the county this November. The levy will tax property owners at a rate of 29.5 cents per $1,000 of the assessed home value. That means, homeowners with a property valued at $300,000 would have to pay an additional $88.50 per year. The Northern Light offered two individuals with opposing viewpoints on the levy a chance to make their argument to the public.

Vote yes… Written by Erica Littlewood Work, chair of the EMS Saves Lives Campaign Committee.

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 are in your home beginning care. A short while later, paramedics arrive 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 for an emergency medical services (EMS) levy to maintain this lifesaving system.

Our fourth Whatcom County paramedic unit was added 15 years ago, and since then our population has grown by over 40,000 people.

To address the challenge to our strained countywide 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, dedicated funding to maintain our system.

Our city and county leaders have confirmed that if the levy fails, EMS service will be cut, response times will be longer and lives will be impacted.

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 and EMTs, expanding the system as necessary to maintain our rapid emergency medical response.

Duplication among agencies will be reduced. The levy will also support a community paramedic program to help reduce calls from frequent system users, connecting them with social services.

Whatcom County is the only county in Washington state that still funds EMS from the fluctuating 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.

No matter who you are or where you are – a farm outside of Lynden, the top of Mt. Baker or a boat in Bellingham Bay – this levy allows paramedics and EMTs to continue to reach you quickly throughout Whatcom County.

Vote YES on Proposition 1 – EMS saves lives.

Vote no… Written by Samuel Sefzik, representative from the Committee of Public Safety.

Many of us have friends or family members who are firefighters or EMTs. They’re the first responders keeping our communities safe, and we should be thankful for their hard work. However, as much as we support EMS services, it’s also our duty as citizens to insist on financial accountability.

Proposition 1 is sorely lacking in specifics and sets an irresponsible precedent.

No need for a $47 million tax

The EMS committee promoting the new tax published a report outlining the proposal. On page 12, it says that the current use of our EMS system is “low average.”

That means there’s actually capacity for our current service to handle more calls without sacrificing quality. In fact, figures in their report indicate no need for a new ambulance for at least a decade.

Voters should be reassured that they’ll continue to have excellent care without imposing a massive new tax.

Government lacking in priorities

Currently, Whatcom EMS services spend about $1 million/year from reserves to pay for operations. But despite the shortfall they’re asking for over $40 million in new equipment! Here’s the kicker: Instead of requesting the city of Bellingham and Whatcom County to cover the (relatively small) deficit, they’re asking taxpayers to foot this huge bill. This is like asking your rich uncle to help you buy a new Audi while defaulting on your house payments.

Promises broken

Finally, there’s no guarantee the money will be used to increase service. A little history: In 2005 an EMS sales tax was approved after officials told us they would add a new ambulance.

We never got one. What happened to the money? It seems their strategy is to dangle the prospect of a new ambulance in front of voters like a carrot to get the tax passed, and then hope they forget what was proposed.

The appropriate solution is to vote NO and ask the county and cities to provide a proportional amount to pay for the funding shortfall. After all, EMS is one of the basic responsibilities of our government.

A new, separate tax levy is not necessary at this time.

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