The South County Fire Board of Fire Commissioners will meet March 20 to discuss a proposition asking voters to approve a replacement levy for emergency medical service (EMS) during the August primary election.
“EMS is the service our citizens rely on the most,” said Fire Chief Bruce Stedman. “More than 85 percent of our calls are EMS-related.”
The meeting will take place at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 20 at the fire authority headquarters, 12425 Meridian Avenue South in Everett. The public is invited and encouraged to attend.
In August 2017, voters in the City of Lynnwood and Snohomish County Fire District 1 formed a regional fire authority to improve service for area residents and businesses. As part of that vote, the two agencies became South County Fire funded by a fire levy rate of $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value. The next part of this voter-approved plan calls for replacing two existing EMS levies, and then dissolving Fire District 1.
South County Fire serves 250,000 residents in Brier, Edmonds, Lynnwood, Mountlake Terrace and unincorporated communities of southwest Snohomish County. If fire commissioners decide to seek a replacement EMS levy, it would appear on the primary election ballot for voters within the boundaries of the regional fire authority, encompassing the City of Lynnwood and unincorporated communities. The levy would not be on the ballot in the cities of Brier, Edmonds and Mountlake Terrace. These cities contract with the fire authority, paying a fee supported by taxes collected by the cities.
Currently, Lynnwood and Fire District 1 receive funding from two separate EMS levies. They pay that revenue to the regional fire authority for an emergency medical service program. The RFA plan calls for asking voters to replace those two levies with a single EMS levy. The rate would be capped at 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, the same rate previously approved by voters in both jurisdictions.
Over time, levy rates decline as property values rise to limit an agency to collecting roughly the same amount of revenue per year, plus a 1 percent increase. The EMS levy rate for property owners in Lynnwood has fallen from 50 cents to 37 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. The EMS levy rate for property owners in Fire District 1 is now 42 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. If voters restore the levy rate to 50 cents, the respective increase would be $45.50 per year ($3.79/month) in Lynnwood and $28 per year ($2.33/month) in unincorporated Snohomish County for the owner of a $350,000 home.
Emergency call volumes have increased 34 percent in the last five years for homes and businesses in South County Fire. More calls mean added costs for personnel, apparatus, maintenance, medical supplies and equipment.
Funding also will be used to purchase and staff another ambulance to respond during peak call times. Renewing an EMS levy of 50 cents will maintain emergency service levels and continue both basic and advanced life support — the highest standard of care — for Regional Fire Authority residents.
South County Fire’s EMS program has received awards from the Journal of Emergency Medical Services and Congressional Fire Services Institute for the innovative care it provides.
Stedman said that the goal of the EMS levy is to streamline operations and maintain service levels.
“We need another medic unit to respond to higher call volumes,” he said. “It’s also more efficient to have one EMS levy under the fire authority as opposed to two levies paid into fire departments that no longer exist.”