Camas voters have until Tuesday, Aug. 7, to make a decision and get their ballots in the mail on a proposal to increase the city’s current emergency medical services levy.
If approved, the six-year levy would raise the current rate from 35 cents per $1,000 of assessed value to 46 cents. Starting in 2013, the owner of a $300,000 home would pay $138 per year — a $33 increase. The current levy expires at the end of the year.
The proposed increase is an effort to stabilize the emergency medical services funding stream. In recent years the EMS fund’s revenues have dropped, primarily due to a decrease in assessed property values. At the end of 2011 the fund had a shortfall of $55,000, an amount that had to be covered by the city’s general operations fund.
According to Camas city officials’ calculations, at 46 cents the levy would put the EMS fund in the black by $237,130 by 2018. But keeping the rate at its current level would build a deficit of $2.9 million by 2018.
“While I certainly acknowledge that it is a big jump, if you take inflation into account it is vastly lower than what it could be,” Swinhart said of the proposal. “The community is getting an amazing bang for its buck in Camas.”
He said if the rate had kept up with inflation, it would be well above 70 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value.
Thanks to legislative action earlier this year, the issue needs only to garner a simple majority 50 percent of the vote instead of the previous requirement of a 60 percent super-majority.
Swinhart said that fact is not making him complacent. He hopes enough citizens are in favor of it that it meets that previous mark.
“We want to sell it so well that we get 60 percent-plus,” he said.
If the issue does not pass, Swinhart said options include re-submitting it on the November General Election ballot. If the levy still doesn’t pass at that point, significant reductions in service levels would need to be implemented including cuts in staffing levels and a decrease in the number of ambulances stationed at the ready in the cities’ fire stations.
“I don’t anticipate that it will ever come to that,” he said.
Funding from the EMS levy can be used for specific purposes including ambulance services, purchase and maintenance of ambulances, equipment and supplies, hiring and training of firefighter/paramedics and IV technicians and administrative support personnel and training programs. It also supports the EMT training and recertification of the volunteer programs in Washougal and East County Fire and Rescue.
In addition, through the EMS levy partnership between Camas, Washougal and ECFR, four advanced life support ambulances are staffed 24 hours a day at three different stations in Camas and Washougal.