On Monday, April 23, the Klickitat County Auditor's Office mailed out about 6,100 ballots to voters residing within Klickitat County Hospital District No. 2, the Skyline Hospital District.
Voters are being asked to decide whether to renew Skyline's six-year Emergency Medical Services levy. The hospital levy will be the only question on the special election ballot.
"This proposition would authorize the district to renew a levy of regular property taxes at the rate of 42 cents or less per $1,000 of assessed value, beginning with taxes payable in 2008 and continuing in each year for six consecutive years, to provide funds for emergency medical care or emergency medical services in the district, including related personnel and training costs, equipment, supplies, vehicles, and structures," reads an excerpt from the ballot measure.
To be counted in the election tally, ballots must be postmarked no later than Tuesday, May 15.
"We really want to hear from the residents of the district whether this is the level of service they want or not," said Mike Madden, administrator of Skyline Hospital.
The cost to renew the EMS coverage for the next six years works out to be 42 cents per $1,000 of valuation.
"For a $200,000 home, that's $84 a year. It's pretty cheap for what we're getting," Madden pointed out.
The levy would raise an overall total of about $380,000 per year.
The revenue would go to pay for having a second emergency crew on duty 24 hours a day; to pay for replacing an ambulance every two years; and for maintaining professional training for Skyline's EMTs and paramedics.
"Currently, we have two crews on duty 24 hours a day, sitting there with an ambulance. One is at Skyline, and the other is in Dallesport," Madden said. "We have an EMT and a paramedic for each aid car."
The Skyline Hospital emergency fleet has three ambulances, and the hospital strives to replace one of them every two years.
"We want to keep that rotation going. An ambulance lasts about six years, so we'd like to replace the oldest one every two years," Madden said. "We've got to have three ambulances, because almost always one of them is being serviced."
Madden said the election will be strictly "vote by mail." There will be no polling places open on Election Day, May 15.
"We're paying for the whole thing," explained Madden. "Voting by mail was an option available to us, so it was an option we took. It was less expensive for us, and we found we get a better turnout by mail-in ballots."
Madden estimated that the special election will cost the hospital about $11,000. However, that is significantly cheaper than having the election handled in the usual way, with poll sites and poll workers.
"There is a substantial savings because they are not having to pay for poll site rentals and not paying poll workers," explained Connie Kayser, elections administrator for the Klickitat County Auditor;s Office.
To pass the levy, a supermajority of at least 60 percent "Approved" votes will be required. Also, at least 40 percent of those who voted in the previous general election (in November 2006) will have to vote in the special election to validate the results.
Madden said if the measure is defeated, there could be significant impacts to EMS operations.
"Coverage would go to just one crew at a time, so on multiple calls, the response times would go up," he said.
According to Madden, after the previous EMS levy was approved and the second crew was added, response times for EMS responders went down by an average of about eight minutes.
"With the levy in place, we dropped eight minutes. That's real significant in heart attacks and traumas," Madden noted.
Approximately half of Klickitat County will vote in the election. The Skyline Hospital Distinct covers an area that includes White Salmon, Bingen, Glenwood, Dallesport, Appleton, Husum, Trout Lake, High Prairie.
Madden added that he was fairly optimistic voters would support the levy.
"There is no way to predict," he said, "but I'd like to feel optimistic. A lot of people don't understand what the service is until they need it. Some people say, `why should I pay for it, I haven't used it.' Then when they need it, it's not there, and they pay a price on the other end. I hope people see it as a vital service and see it as important for them and their family, and will vote for it."