Camas ambulance levy passing

With 55 percent approval, measure likely to succeed

By Patty Hastings, Columbian breaking news reporter

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The Camas EMS levy is leading with about 55 percent voting in favor of an 11-cent tax increase to support six years of emergency response and ambulance service in east Clark County.

Fire Chief Nick Swinhart is pleased with the results since a simple majority is needed to pass the levy, but he's disheartened the levy didn't get more "yes" votes.

"I felt like we had sold it if we had reached 60 percent," he said. "But an approval is an approval."

If the levy passes, residents can expect to pay 45 cents per $1,000 of assessed property valuation in 2013 to cover the first of six years of continued ambulance service in east Clark County. That means a home valued at $300,000 will be assessed $138.

The 11-cent increase would maintain the current level of service despite inflation, depressed housing values and increased call volume. The levy is expected to bring in $7.5 million between 2013 and 2018. Funds would replace two of Camas's four ambulances, hire and train paramedics, provide EMS training to firefighters and EMS responders and purchase medical supplies.

"I suppose what concerns me is the 1,136 that voted no," Swinhart said. "I wonder if that's a fault of mine."

In the future, the fire chief plans to be more holistic in educating voters not only about what the levy money would provide, but also what would happen if voters turn down the levy.

"The reality is there's nobody else who could step up and provide that paramedic service," Swinhart said.

Current emergency services would eventually go away without these levy funds, he said. Camas, which is the only fire department in Clark County that provides ambulance services, was recognized in a study by the Resuscitation Outcomes Consortium as one of the top five paramedic services in the United States and Canada in cardiac arrest survival rates.

The Camas and Washougal fire departments entered into a temporary merger in July 2011 that runs through 2013. Swinhart said the departments are trying to figure out how to make the merger permanent.