By Katie Murdoch For The Herald
MILL CREEK — Voters will decide approval of a higher levy for emergency medical services to add firefighters and paramedics with the goal of improving response rates.
The City Council voted unanimously April 13 to include a measure on the Aug. 17 primary ballot asking taxpayers to approve a six-year EMS levy at 45 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. The owner of a $400,000 home would pay $180, more than twice the current rate.
Before voting to put the measure on the ballot, the council split 4-3 on the levy rate, with three council members wanting a higher rate of 50 cents per $1,000.
Councilmen Mike Todd, Mark Harmsworth, Terry Ryan and Mark Bond voted in favor of the 45-cent rate. Council members Donna Michelson, Kathy Nielsen and Bart Masterson wanted a 50-cent rate.
“I don’t want to ask for any more than we need,” Harmsworth said.
Bond said it was a matter of principle as taxpayers feel the pinch of the recession.
“My premise is even 10 bucks is still their money and they should choose how to spend it,” he said.
Ryan said if the city were to ask for 50 cents and use less than that, it would appear as a “bait and switch.”
“When you take more than you need, it doesn’t sit well,” he said.
Property owners are currently charged 18 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, or $72 for the owner of a $400,000 home.
The increase would add personnel to staff a three-person engine and two-person medic unit.
The city contracts for fire and EMS services through Fire District 7 at Station 76, 1020 152nd Place SE, Mill Creek. The city’s current six-year EMS levy expires this year.
The average base salary for a top-step firefighter is $79,416 and $55,596 for a new recruit, Fire District 7 spokeswoman Autumn Waite said. Hiring eight more firefighters is expected to cost, on average, $769,960 per year, including salaries, benefits and training.
Earlier this month, council members agreed they wanted to rely on facts, not fear, as they endorse the EMS levy increase that is anticipated to lower missed emergency calls.
“We’re not the size we should be given our call number,” Bond said. “We’re not a good neighbor; we’re not there for them when they need us.”
The current staffing level at Station 76 means it’s been available for 18 percent of dispatched EMS alarms and 24 percent of dispatched fire alarms. The station relies on neighboring fire stations to pick up the slack.
Masterson said the levy should be raised to 50 cents, calling it “the next logical step.”
Compared to Everett and other neighboring cities, Masterson said Mill Creek hasn’t paid its fair share for EMS services. Everett residents currently pay 32 cents per $1,000 valuation, but residents will vote on a return to a 50-cent levy last approved in 2000.
“It’s time for us to step up and pay for a higher level of service,” Masterson said.