Fire District seeks hike in tax rate

By Jessica Keller, The Courier-Herald

On Sept. 16, District 12 residents will vote on the level of emergency medical services they receive.

In Tuesday's primary, District 12 is asking voters to continue the EMS levy and increase the amount of funding from 25 cents to 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value for a period of 10 years. The increase would be the maximum amount allowed by the state to be assessed for EMS.

If the levy passes, it will go into effect in 2004. The owner of a $150,000 home, who currently pays $37.50 per year, would pay $75 per year.

District 12 provides service to 80 square miles of east Pierce County. The district's boundaries are between the city limits of Bonney Lake and Buckley, north to the King County line and south to the Mount Rainier National Forest border, including the town of Wilkeson, which contracts services from the district, surrounding the town of Carbonado, and extending out, stopping short of the town of South Prairie.

According to District 12 Fire Chief Bill Steele, the increase is necessary.

The extra EMS funds will be used to maintain or expand existing programs and support five critical areas: emergency response, EMS and injury prevention programs, personnel, maintenance and replacement of EMS apparatus and equipment and personnel training.

The cost of fuel, insurance, supplies, training and rescue equipment have all increased since the last district levy was passed six years ago. Funding would also be used for joint paramedic staffing with districts 20 and 22. The calls for service have also increased because the population in the district has increased by about 8 percent annually.

If the levy passes, it would boost the district's budget by $140,000, and would only be used for emergency medical services. EMS calls make up approximately 78 percent of the district's calls. In the past, the current EMS rate has only paid for about half the EMS costs incurred by the district, with the other half coming from the fire levy.

If the levy is not passed, Steele said the district will have to reconsider its options and possibly go back out to the voters with a different proposal in the November general election. At the extreme, Steele said the board of commissioners might consider crafting a budget for next year that does not include EMS, which is legal, but is not what the district wants for its citizens.

"But if you only have so much money, you can only go on so many calls," Steele said.

But he remains optimistic there won't be any problems with the levy passing.

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