Faced with a tight budget and an ever-increasing number of emergency calls, East Pierce Fire and Rescue commissioners voted unanimously on Jan. 19 to place an emergency medical services levy lid lift measure on the April 26 ballot.
Washington voters approved the EMS levy in 2011, allowing fire districts to tax 50 cents for every $1,000 in assessed property value.
The district wants the EMS levy lid to be lifted because taxpayers are no longer paying the full levy amount due to climbing property rates.
According to Washington Administrative Code 458-19-060, the EMS levy is subject to the same 1 percent growth limit as other property taxes, including the annual property tax that cities renew during the budget season.
However, property rates have risen faster than 1 percent every year, meaning the levy rate has been reduced accordingly to balance the equation and max out growth at 1 percent.
In 2015, the EMS levy rate was reduced to 46.3 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, and was furthered lowered to 44.7 cents this year.
Lifting the levy lid will reset the levy to its full amount of 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.
Home and land owners with a total of $250,000 in assessed property value will pay $1.25 more per month in property taxes, or $15 a year.
For every additional $100,000 in assessed value, taxpayers can expect to pay 50 cents more per month, or $6 more per year.
The 6-cents boost in the levy will provide East Pierce Fire and Rescue with close to $620,000, money “we can sorely use,” East Pierce Fire Chief Bud Backer said during the last commissioners meeting.
The department plans to use the boost in tax revenue to train a fifth medic unit in the Milton and Edgewood area, offset rising supply and equipment costs and cover election costs, Backer said.
The levy lift will only reset the levy for 2017 – starting in 2018, the EMS levy may be reduced again due to the 1 percent growth limit.
If that happens, Backer said the department plans to ask the public to reset the levy again for 2019 and continue asking the public to reset the lid every other year.
The department could ask the public to vote on a multi-year levy lift measure, which would keep the EMS levy at its full rate of 50 cents, Backer said, but this way, the public has more control over the department’s funds and the department can build up trust with its constituents.
Backer said that lack of control and trust were two big reasons why the department’s maintenance and operations levy failed in August and November of 2014.
As for the fire levy approved by voters in 2008, East Pierce residents will continue to pay the full rate of $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed value.
The fire levy hasn’t depreciated because property rates were higher when the levy passed in 2008 than they are now. The levy will only start to depreciate after that benchmark is passed, like with the EMS levy – property rates are higher now than when the EMS levy was passed in 2011.
The department expects this levy to depreciate in the next year or two because property rates will have caught up to, and surpassed, 2008 rates, and the 1 percent growth limitation will kick in.
Depending on the department’s and the Pierce County Assessor’s calculations for the 2017 property rates, a final recommendation for lifting the lid on the fire levy to keep it at its full rate will be made during the Feb. 16 commissioner meeting.