Hospital asks voters to increase EMS levy

More than half of Whidbey General Hospital’s emergency medical services budget is paid for by a voter-approved levy.

That money pays for ambulance service on Whidbey Island and voters have been paying the same levy rate for the past eight years.

To keep up with rising costs and demand for medical care, Whidbey Island voters will be asked this fall to increase the tax rate by 13 cents, or 35 percent, in a special election scheduled Sept. 16.

The levy increase will pay for more equipment and upgrade facilities.

“We need to stay in front of the curve to make sure we have the resources to meet the demand,” said Roger Meyers, emergency medical services manager for Whidbey General Hospital.

He said personnel have been responding to more and more calls in recent years. He said the calls have increased in every area from 911 response to transporting patients to off-island hospitals. The call volume has increased from 3,560 in 1997 to 5,610 in 2005.

The levy increase would pay for four to five additional basic life support units. Myers said the additional units would help free up paramedic units to concentrate on more serious incidents. He said he didn’t know how the new units would be staffed yet. He is meeting with local fire districts to discuss staffing options.

It will also pay for new personnel quarters on Central and South Whidbey Island and about a penny of the increase will offset costs stemming from declining Medicare reimbursements and rising costs.

In all the EMS levy accounts for nearly 51 percent of the service’s $4 million budget.

Should voters approve the levy that needs to pass by a 60 percent supermajority, then the levy rate would go from 37 cents to 50 cents per $1,000 assessed property value for the next six years. The 50-cent levy is the highest rate the hospital can ask voters to approve.

Officials are starting to get the word out about the specifics of the hospital proposal.

Meyers gave a presentation about the levy proposal during a Whidbey General Hospital board meeting.

Hospital spokesperson Trish Rose said she hopes Meyers will visit local community groups in the weeks leading up to the special election.

Meyers said he hopes community organizations will invite him to speak about the EMS system and the upcoming levy election.

The EMS levy has been in existence since 1978 and taxpayers have paid the current rate for the past eight years.

Meyers said the community has been supportive of EMS and has approved the levy when it comes up for renewal.

“Over the years we’ve had tremendous support from the community,” Meyers said.

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