Everett puts emergency medical service levy up for April vote

EVERETT — Voters will decide if the city’s emergency medical service gets more cash.

The Everett City Council voted unanimously Wednesday night to approve a special April election for a levy that would raise $2 million a year by boosting property taxes.

The city could have saved taxpayers $146,000 by tacking the matter onto the November ballot, but Mayor Ray Stephanson and other city leaders feared the levy would get lost in the muddle of measures at the general election.

Special elections allow voters to focus on one issue without having “a lot of other distractions,” said Debra Bryant, Everett’s chief financial officer.

The tax would bump the levy rate from 31 cents to 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. An owner of a $300,000 home would pay $150 a year — $57 more than now. The levy, which requires a simple majority to pass, would not sunset.

In July, the mayor urged the council to pull the levy off the November ballot because of the poor economy. He said an unofficial committee of citizens and business owners had told him it was a bad time to ask for a tax hike.

Vetting the matter more thoroughly months ago could have saved taxpayers some money, Councilman Drew Nielsen said. He also wondered why a committee of unknown people held so much sway over the decision.

“We still do not know yet who was on that committee,” he said.

Wednesday night, city leaders hastened to point out that the levy wasn’t imposing a new tax, but rather re-establishing a tax citizens agreed to a decade ago.

“In a sense, we are restoring a funding source,” council president Paul Roberts said.

In 2000, Everett voters approved a perpetual EMS levy that allowed officials to increase property taxes by as much as 6 percent a year. An initiative later limited tax hikes to 1 percent a year.

As the cost of running the program has soared, the 1 percent annual tax boost hasn’t kept pace with the cost of providing services. This year, the city had to borrow $2 million from its operating budget to pay for the program, which is expected to cost $7.8 million.

Debra Smith: 425-339-3197, dsmith@heraldnet.com.

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