SEQUIM — Clallam County Fire District 3’s leaders will ask voters to renew a 10-year emergency medical services property tax levy in the Nov. 5 election.
Fire commissioners voted unanimously July 2 to seek to continue the EMS levy rate, not to exceed $0.50 per thousand dollars of assessed valuation through 2030.
Its purpose isn’t to ask for new funds, commissioner James Barnfather said.
“It’s a restoration of existing money and an extension to maintain the level of service and revenue for 10 years,” he said.
The current rate for homeowners is $0.45 per thousand dollars of assessed value, and Fire District 3 Chief Ben Andrews said commissioners cannot legally raise the district’s annual levy amount by more than 1-percent per year up to the $0.50 amount.
Fire staff said if the EMS Levy rate increases from its current amount of $0.45 cents per thousand to a maximum of $0.50 per thousand in the coming years, a resident with a home assessed at $300,000 would see an increase of about $15 annually, or $1.25 per month.
“Unfortunately, property taxes are the only way we can raise revenue,” Andrews told a concerned couple about the levy’s impacts at a commissioner meeting last week.
“Our budget is about $9 million a year. [Asking for taxes] is not something we do lightly, but it’s the only mechanism,” he said.
Andrews said the EMS levy made up about $2.26 million, or about 25 percent, of the fire district’s $9 million approximate budget.
EMS calls make up about 87 percent of the district’s call load too, he said.
Fire Commissioner Mike Gawley said the district couldn’t take a hit of losing the levy.
“It’s pretty apparent that to maintain services we cannot take a 25-percent hit without significant consequences,” he said.
If voted down this year, fire commissioners could consider running the levy extension again in 2020.
However, if it fails, Andrews estimates six to nine positions could be cut in early 2021 to balance the budget after the levy expires.
“I would not view [sending the ordinance to voters] as optional,” Andrews told commissioners. “I don’t think the district can decide not to do it.”
The current levy expires Dec. 31, 2020, and if it’s extended again, the 2021 rate would be assessed in 2020, Andrews said.
To pass, the levy extension would need 50-percent approval plus one vote.
The levy funds would be used exclusively for emergency medical services such as personnel costs and service contract costs, along with training for EMS personnel and emergency medical services-related equipment, supplies, vehicles and structures, fire district officials said.
Last year, voters approved increasing the fire district’s general levy rate from $1.26 per $1,000 of assessed valuation to $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed value.
Fire District staff said the levy lid lift will help generate more than $1 million in new revenue, and about $8.3 million over six years.
Andrews said the lid lift was to maintain services at their current level as costs continue to rise.
“With the lid lift, we were going to see expenses progressively outpace revenue,” he said. “With [the EMS levy extension] it would be a sudden loss in our budget if the levy were not to be renewed. We would need to make drastic changes in staffing.”
Jim and Anne McDowell of Carlsborg told commissioners they are recently retired and concerned about financial impacts because many people in the area live on fixed incomes.
“Food is going up. Gas is going up. It’s all relative. That’s my concern as a taxpayer,” Anne McDowell said.
Gawley said he’s a “tax hawk” but feels the levy renewal is necessary.
“[The board is retired], so we feel your pain when it comes to taxes,” he told the McDowells.
“This is an extension of an existing tax.”
For more information about the proposed EMS tax levy renewal, call 360-683-4242 or email Andrews at [email protected].
Matthew Nash is a reporter with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. Reach him at [email protected].