For the past 30 years, Buckley property owners have willingly taxed themselves, paying for emergency medical services provided through the Buckley Fire Department.
Now, looking to add some long-term stability to a reliable funding source, the city will ask that the tax become permanent.
Members of the Buckley City Council agreed, during their May 10 session, to put a tax request on the Aug. 2 primary election ballot. The proposition will ask voters to assess all privately-held land within the city limits at a rate of 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.
That’s the same rate being collected today – and the same rate that has been collected since 1986, when the state authorized fire departments to assess additional taxes for emergency medical services. EMS calls take the majority of a department’s time and resources, not fighting fires. Buckley Fire Chief Alan Predmore said 74 percent of his department’s calls are for emergency medical issues; the remaining 24 percent consist of fire calls as well as responses to fire alarms, worries about suspicious odors or illegal burns.
When the state first allowed an EMS tax, levies could be approved for no more than six years. Buckley residents have given their approval five times during the past three decades, with the current levy set to expire on the last day of 2016.
The state now also allows two other options: levies can be proposed with a 10-year lifespan or, simply, with no expiration date.
Buckley’s preference is to have an EMS levy approved at the 50-cent rate that would essentially remain in effect forever.
Anticipating all possibilities, Buckley’s council members have authorized both a six-year levy and the “forever” levy. If the permanent levy is voted down on the primary election ballot, a six-year levy will be ready for the Nov. 8 general election. If the August effort is successful, the November alternative will be scrapped.
In a memo to the council, Predmore outlined reasons for his support of a permanent levy. First was the financial stability that such a levy would bring; additionally, he pointed to the cost incurred by the city every six years under the present system, an expense that would go away with a permanent tax.
The tax rate of 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value equates to a $100 tax bill annually on property valued at $200,000.