Camas looks to voters to renew EMS levy

‘Significant layoffs’ if EMS levy does not pass before Dec. 31 expiration

Nick Swinhart

The city of Camas has a proposition on the Feb. 13 special election ballot asking voters to renew the city’s emergency medical services (EMS) levy, which expires at the end of this year.

The levy is a property tax that will cost property owners 46 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value, for six consecutive years.

Nick Swinhart, fire chief for the Camas-Washougal Fire Department and East County Fire and Rescue, said the rate of 46 cents per $1,000 has been judged as sufficient to support Camas’ EMS operations for the next six years.

The levy supports all functions related to ambulance response and transport within the city of Camas, Swinhart said. This includes salaries of personnel assigned to EMS, all equipment and large expenditures for things like ambulances.

The positions funded by the existing levy include paramedics, as well as a portion of supervisors’ salaries, Swinhart said.

Voters approved the current levy, with a tax rate of 46 cents per $1,000 of property value, in 2012. It expires on Dec. 31.

Since 1978, the EMS levy rate has increased only twice.

The original rate of 25 cents per $1,000 increased to 35 cents before Swinhart’s time, he said. Then, in 2012, it jumped from 35 cents per $1,000 to 46 cents per $1,000.

Swinhart said the tax rate increases are primarily a result of the increased operational expenses of ambulance response and transport operations.

Since 1978, the cost of an ambulance increased from about $35,000 to about $200,000, Swinhart said.

While during this time, Camas’ levy rate has only increased by 21 cents per $1,000, he added.

“We believe this demonstrates that we are good stewards of the public’s money,” Swinhart said.

Washougal voters passed that city’s EMS levy last November, with a rate that will cost property owners 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value for six years.

The fire chief said that if the levy does not pass in February, he is certain city leaders will run it again before the Dec. 31 expiration date.

If voters still did not approve the levy renewal, then the city would be in uncharted territory, Swinhart said.

“The most immediate problems would be that we’d no longer have budget money to support salaries for our paramedics who are responsible for response and transport in the city of Camas, and there would likely be significant layoffs as a result,” he said. “The only ambulance available for all Camas residents would likely have to come from Washougal.”

The levy is required to pass by a simple majority.