By Katie Murdoch Enterprise editor
CLEARVIEW — If an Emergency Medical Services renewal levy fails again, Fire District 7’s paramedic program and ambulance transport services will be cut to make up for lost revenue. Fire stations will randomly “brown out” on a day-to-day basis as there won’t be enough personnel or overtime pay available to staff all seven stations in FD7’s coverage area, district officials said.
FD7 personnel said the brown outs will lead to longer response times during emergencies. Without paramedics or ambulance service, patients will have lower quality medical care and will be charged up to $400 extra to ride in an ambulance in addition to being charged for deductibles and co-pay fees.
FD7 Chief Rick Eastman said the district will face a $4.3 million deficit if the levy fails again. Eastman has proposed $3.7 million in cutbacks which includes pay freezes, eliminating overtime pay and not purchasing additional medic units.
“This budget doesn’t allow for flexibility,” he said. “But it doesn’t include layoffs.”
No layoffs for now, that is.
In 2011, however, Eastman said he will have to look to laying off about 40 people in order to balance the district’s budget.
District officials are going back to the voters in the Nov. 4 general election. The proposed levy requires 60 percent approval to pass. If approved, taxpayers would be charged a permanent rate of 50 cents per $1,000 assessed value of a home. The owner of a $400,000 home would be charged $200 per year. If the levy passes in the general election, it will bring in $3.6 million in revenue.
The levy failed during the primary election with 58.8 percent, or 6,425 votes, in its favor.
This levy will not immediately affect Mill Creek residents, Lt. Troy Smith, union Local 2781 president, said. Mill Creek voters approved a six-year renewal levy during the primary election. FD7 will continue to contract services at Station 76, 1020 153rd St. SE, and provide Mill Creek residents with mutual aid, EMS and paramedic services and ambulance transport.
Eastman said because Mill Creek and FD 7’s jurisdictional lines cross, there will be an impact on Mill Creek eventually.
“They will be impacted less than the district,” he said. “However because Mill Creek and Fire District 7 units back each other up, there will be cross jurisdictional impacts.”
FD7’s current EMS levy, which expires at the end of the year, generated $1.5 million in property taxes this year. An anticipated 10 percent decline in home values in 2011 means the district will lose $1.2 million in revenues.
Smith said closing stations for a day creates a domino effect throughout the district’s seven stations. Firefighters are unavailable to respond to emergencies closer to their station because they’ve been dispatched to an area where a station was closed. Currently almost all areas are protected by a fire station within a two-mile radius of their home. If a station is closed, the closest unit could be 12 to 18 minutes away.
Smith said some voters mistakenly believe if the levy fails, the county and state will help subsidize fire district expenses.
“If it doesn’t pass, we will have zero dollars coming in,” Smith said.
Smith said people have criticized FD7 personnel for threatening taxpayers to vote in favor of the levy. This isn’t the case, he said.
“People need to make informed decisions regardless of how they vote,” he said.
The quality of patient care will drop without paramedics, Smith said. The credentials of an EMT compared to a paramedic are like comparing those of a nurse to a doctor.
Revenue generated from the levy will go strictly to fire and EMS equipment and services, including personnel costs, training, equipment, supplies and vehicles. More than 75 percent of the emergency calls in FD7’s coverage area are EMS-related calls.
Eastman speculated the measure failed during the primary election because voters didn’t receive voter pamphlets in the mail, the measure was the only one printed on the back of the ballot and voters may not have understood what EMS services entails and how they benefit voters.
“The economy played a big role,” Eastman said. “People have been laid off and have no medical insurance. They need to know why EMS is important to them.”
Additionally, changing the time frame from six years to a permanent levy, could have confused voters, Eastman said.
“It’s better for the voters financially,” he said. “A permanent levy gives taxpayers more control and puts the control back in their hands. They’re not doubling their taxes every six years.”
FD7 Commissioner Gregg* Knapp said voters should know they won’t have EMS services if they don’t approve them.
“Maybe they want it but don’t want to pay for it,” he said.
*Correction, Sept. 15, 2010: This article originally used an incorrect name for Gregg Knapp.