Washougal to explore EMS options

City’s preliminary budget includes property tax reduction after levy renewal was not submitted for Nov. 8 ballot

Washougal property owners are expected to experience temporary property tax relief next year, due to there not being an emergency medical services levy included in the city’s 2017 preliminary budget.

Mayor Sean Guard said ultimately it was his responsibility to submit the property tax levy for the Nov. 8 general election ballot.

“Unfortunately we believed the levy renewed in 2017, not this year,” he said.

Without the levy next year, the owner of a home assessed at $300,000 would save an estimated $187 in taxes.

The $44.569 million preliminary budget includes the use of $646,900 in existing money in the EMS fund toward the payment to Camas for ongoing operations.

Washougal City Administrator David Scott said the funds were not originally earmarked for a specific project or expense.

“They are generally held for EMS,” he said. “The funds can only be used for EMS-related expenses.”

Additionally, $134,453 in reserves will be transferred to Camas to be held in the Fire and EMS reserve on Washougal’s behalf.

The Camas-Washougal Joint Policy Advisory Committee has directed the two cities and East County Fire and Rescue staff to look at what it would cost for the entities to have a service delivery options analysis completed.

That would be phase one before a company could be hired to provide a cost of service analysis.

“It is highly unlikely and not anticipated that we would be serviced by any other ambulance system other than one that is in conjunction with Camas and East County Fire and Rescue,” Guard said.

“The cost of service analysis, however, could lead to more efficient ways to run the system or different ways than we are running it right now,” he added.

Guard mentioned an option of reverting to being first responders — similar to the Vancouver Fire Department and others around the U.S.

“In this case, it is possible that another company such as AMR might handle the actual transports to the hospital for those people who need that additional service,” he said. “That’s just one example, and we are confident that the cost of service analysis will help us understand other methods of service delivery and ways to pay for them.”

The results of the analyses would be reported back to JPAC. The committee includes Washougal City Council members Michelle Wagner, Dave Shoemaker and Brent Boger and Camas City Council members Shannon Turk, Greg Anderson and Don Chaney.

Boger said the challenges that must be addressed by JPAC include a growth rate in expenses that is not sustainable.

“Costs went up seven percent last year, mostly due to overtime,” he said. “The increase for this year is more in the two to three percent range.”

Camas-Washougal Fire Department Nick Swinhart reported in August that the department spent $646,000 on overtime expenses in 2015, exceeding budgeted levels by more than $200,000.

The fire department has budgeted $436,000 for overtime in 2016. As of Oct. 12, $634,567 has been spent on overtime.

Contributing factors in 2015 and 2016 include six to seven paramedics out due to injuries, and the resignation of four within a short period of time.

A funding alternative to an EMS levy would involve an ambulance utility fee.

Scott said city staff is just beginning to explore that option.

“An ambulance utility is similar to other utilities –water and sewer — in that there would be assessed a bi-monthly charge for ambulance services, which would likely be included on the existing utility bills of residences and businesses,” he said.