PORT ANGELES — Would you rather pay higher fire insurance rates on your home and get nothing or a higher Medic 1 fee for emergency medical services to hire new firefighter-paramedics?
Facing that conundrum, Port Angeles City Council members Tuesday night resoundingly acceded to Fire Chief Ken Dubuc’s request for new emergency personnel, the department’s first new staff in 26 years.
Council members voted unanimously to increase fees July 1 by 33 percent to residential ratepayers and 32 percent to commercial-business ratepayers to pay for four new firefighter paramedics, a jump from 12 such fire department employees to 16 by 2022.
No one spoke against the rate hikes over two public hearings that ended Tuesday.
Without the staffing increase, the Washington Surveying and Rating Bureau had threatened to downgrade the city’s fire insurance rating, based on emergency preparedness, staffing and other factors, from 4 to 5, spurring an increase in insurance premiums for residential and business owners, Dubuc has told the council.
“If I’m going to pay a higher rate in insurance for my business and my home, heck, I want something to show for it,” Young Johnson, president of the board of the Port Angeles Downtown Association, said at Tuesday night’s hearing.
“This is, I think, our first step in getting things back up to par where it should be. It’s been so long, it’s way overdue.”
The positions will cost the city $373,393 in the first year and $454,328 after five years.
The increases were approved for July 1; Jan. 1, 2018; and Jan. 1, 2019, after which further increases will be considered.
The new personnel will be hired over five years.
During the same period between 1991 and 2017, when no new personnel have been hired, 9-1-1 emergency calls have increased 257 percent, with levels for 2017 already exceeding 2016, Dubuc has said.
The residential monthly Medic 1 fee for individual residential utility ratepayers — it is added to residents’ monthly utility bills — will increase by 42 percent between this July 1 and Jan. 1, 2019, with the biggest increase occurring July 1.
The fee will jump from $6.28 to $8.31 a month July 1, to $8.66 a month Jan. 1, 2018, and to $8.84 a month Jan. 1, 2019.
Residential ratepayers who pay $75.36 a year now for Medic 1 will pay $106.08 a year beginning Jan. 1, 2019.
The commercial-business monthly Medic 1 fee will increase by 43.5 percent between this July 1 and Jan. 1, 2019, with the biggest increase occurring July 1.
The fee will jump from $6.82 to $9.03 a month July 1, to $9.50 a month Jan. 1, 2018, and $9.79 a month Jan. 1, 2019.
Commercial-business Medic 1 fee city utility ratepayers who pay $81.84 a year now for Medic 1 services will pay $117.48 a year beginning Jan. 1, 2019.
The city council had provided a stopgap by approving an increase to five-person minimum emergency personnel staffing by relying on overtime, setting the stage for Dubuc’s proposal to add two, three or four personnel.
Dubuc told council members Tuesday that the department responded to 210 calls for service over the previous month, about 15 calls a day, handling emergencies that involved drugs, alcohol, trauma, strokes, chest pains, illegal fires and fire calls.
“It has been incredibly busy,” he said, adding that 48 smoke detectors were installed and 323 children visited the fire station.
He also added that he has continued outreach to community groups and residents, and responded to concerns by the Peninsula Housing Authority, for which he implemented a phased increase.
Council members opted for Dubuc’s option of four additional personnel.
“Our priority as council members serving the public is keeping the public safe,” Deputy Mayor Cherie Kidd said.
Councilman Lee Whetham praised Dubuc’s effort to get the word out.
“This is supported from the business community as well as the regular folks that pay the bills here in town,” he said.
“This makes perfect sense to me.”
The monthly increase in Medic 1 fees “is a small price to pay,” Mayor Patrick Downie said.
“We as citizens of the city value each other’s life.”
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].