Voters will decide the fate of the newly created emergency medical services district this summer when they either approve or reject the district’s levy proposition that will be on the ballot for this year’s primary election on August 6.
Last week, Klickitat County commissioners David Sauter and Rex Johnston met as the interim governing body of Emergency Medical Services District No. 1 and passed a resolution requesting the county auditor to put the levy question on the primary ballot. If approved, the levy would collect a regular property tax of 30 cents per $1,000 of assessed value for six consecutive years, starting with taxes payable in 2014 “to provide funds for emergency medical care or emergency services, including related personnel costs, training for such personnel, and related equipment, supplies, vehicles and structures.”
The administrations of Skyline Hospital in White Salmon and Klickitat Valley Health in Goldendale have been pushing for close to a year and a half for the creation of the district, which they say will help ensure that ambulance coverage won’t fall below its current level. Due to rising costs and falling revenues, both hospitals have operated their ambulance services at annual losses of hundreds of thousands of dollars for years and say they can’t sustain them for much longer. If the levy is passed, the hospitals will turn over all ambulances and equipment — valued at around $1 million — to the district.
Commissioner David Sauter, who is the board chair for EMSD No. 1, said the 30-cent figure for the levy was arrived at after a lot of research.
“We asked [KVH and Skyline] for substantial financial records,” he said. “Thirty cents was a pretty conservative number to building a sustainable budget.”
In addition to examining five years worth of hospitals’ past ambulance service budgets and five years of budget projections for the new district, commissioners also took heavily into consideration the depreciation of wind turbines — a variable that could impact tax revenue down the road.
Although the original intent was to create a countywide district, EMSD No. 1 leaves out the territory of Fire Protection District No. 2 (Bickleton) and FPD No. 10 (Alder-dale) since these districts primarily use out-of-county services for their ambulance coverage. With the high concentration of wind farms in the eastern portion of the county, Sauter said the exclusion of this area from the district “takes a little of the volatility out of the equation” in regards to tax revenues.
In the west end of the county, the levy proposal is projected to actually lower rates for taxpayers. Klickitat County Hospital District No. 2 (Skyline Hospital) already has an EMS levy in place that collects 34 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, which expires at the end of the year. The new levy lowers that to 30 cents.
Public Hospital District No. 1 (KVH), however, does not have an EMS levy and the EMSD No. 1 levy would be an entirely new tax for property owners to pay in that district. Moreover, since this is the very first levy EMSD No. 1 has run, according to state law the proposition has to pass by a supermajority of 60 percent plus one, as opposed to the simple majority that would be required for subsequent levies.
Sauter said he had “concerns” about the levy’s passage due to the 60-percent requirement and noted that “it makes the education piece all the more critical.” Although the commissioners and the hospitals can’t legally campaign for the levy (in other words, tell people how to vote), they will be working diligently to get the word out to taxpayers about how important the levy is.
Sauter said if the levy is voted down, EMSD No. 1 wouldn’t be properly funded and would essentially be a nonentity.
“If the voters say no, there’s no point in going forward [with the district],” he said.