Whidbey's EMS levy set for ballot may bring in less

A proposition to continue a levy that funds ambulances and other emergency medical services on Whidbey Island will go before the voters on the Aug. 7 election ballot, but due to declining property values it may bring in less than the old levy.

Whidbey General Hospital commissioners approved a resolution Monday that places the levy on the ballot. If passed, it would continue the current levy of 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed value for another six years. That equates to $150 a year for the owner of a home worth $300,000.

Six years ago, voters on Whidbey Island approved the levy by the requisite 60 percent supermajority, but this year it may be easier to pass the measure. State lawmakers approved a bill, which now sits on the governor’s desk, that would require only a simply majority — 50 percent of voters — for continuations of emergency medical services levies.

Roger Meyers has managed the Emergency Medical Services, a department of Whidbey General Hospital, since 1990. He explained that the levy funds 65 percent of the department’s budget, while the rest comes from charges for service. The levy is currently at the statutory maximum of 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, so the department can’t ask for an increase.

Since the levy is tied to property values, the amount it brings in has declined in recent years as the housing market plummeted. Meyers estimates that the levy will collect about $4.6 million this year, while it brought in $5.1 million a couple of years ago.

Meyers said the decrease in funding has not affected day-to-day operations, but it’s prevented the department from accomplishing infrastructure projects that would increase the efficiency of the system. He hopes, for example, to build a new facility in Coupeville someday that could house more than one ambulance.

Yet Meyers said the department runs a “dynamic system” that’s known for its effectiveness throughout the state.

“We have nine ambulances running 24/7 to ensure that most people can get a really quick response,” he said.

Because of the length of the island, six ambulances providing advanced life support are strategically positioned throughout Whidbey. In addition, the department has a unique, collaborative relationship with two fire departments to run three ambulances that provide basic life support for less-acute medical emergencies.

Meyers explained that ambulance crews are constantly moving to cover other areas of the counties when other crews are busy with calls or transporting patients to off-island hospitals. The ambulance crews complete about 800 patient transfers from Whidbey General Hospital and Navy Hospital to other facilities each year.

“People think the ambulances just park in one place all day, but it’s not true,” he said.

Meyers said the ambulance crews deal with an ever-increasing number of calls. Last year, they responded to just under 7,000 calls.

State law allows emergency medical service levies to run for six-year or 10-year terms, or even to be permanent. Meyers said hospital leaders opted for the shortest term.

“From my perspective, it keeps us accountable to the public,” he said. “… Our county has been fantastic in the way they have supported us. It’s been very humbling.”


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