Arlington considering utility fee to close funding gap for EMS

The proposed $15 charge does not have to be approved by voters.

ARLINGTON — City leaders are considering a new fee to help pay for emergency medical services.

The Arlington City Council expects to vote this summer on a proposed ambulance utility fee. The $15 would be tacked onto monthly water-sewer-stormwater bills for homes and businesses.

The goal is to create reliable funding for EMS, city spokeswoman Kristin Banfield said.

“The (City) Council’s been at this for four years of really intensive study considering every possibility out there to address this funding issue,” she said.

The EMS budget relies on a property tax levy, transport fees charged for ambulance trips and contracts with other communities that pay Arlington for ambulance service.

There is a $1.5 million gap between what those sources bring in and how much the city says is needed. The city has been pulling money from the general fund to fill the gap, Banfield said.

The City Council considered several possibilities for funding EMS without drawing from the general fund. Options included: a lid lift for the EMS levy, currently 38 cents per $1,000 assessed property value; a criminal justice sales tax similar to a measure that was shot down by Snohomish County voters in 2016; or an increase to the general property tax levy.

Any of those would have required approval by Arlington voters, and they didn’t fully close the gap, Banfield said.

The utility fee does not require a ballot measure. The City Council can approve it. Money from the fee would go into an account specifically for EMS.

That would free up money in the general fund, which would be used to hire two new police officers right away and a third by 2020, according to the city. Three more firefighters, cross-trained as emergency medical technicians or paramedics, would be hired in 2021, as well.

City leaders also would like to bring on a domestic violence coordinator and a second police support officer, and set aside money to keep an embedded social worker with local police if grant support ends.

“The City Council is really focused on ensuring that public safety investments … address the ongoing public health challenges the community is facing: homelessness, mental health, substance abuse … ” Banfield said. “In addition, we have an aging population that is using our system more.”

If the new fee is approved, the City Council would review the amount every two years, similar to water and sewer rates. Parts of the city that get water and sewer from Marysville would receive a separate Arlington ambulance utility bill.

The plan is to have a public hearing during the council meeting at 7 p.m. July 2. Council members may vote that night or at the following meeting, Banfield said.

Comments also can be emailed to kbanfield@arlingtonwa.gov. They will be provided to the City Council before the hearing.

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; kbray@heraldnet.com.

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