Camas officials tout EMS levy increase

Voter approval would replace ambulances, shore up finances

By Ray Legendre, Columbian staff writer

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One year after its system faced a six-figure budget shortfall, the Camas EMS Fund's financial situation has stabilized, thanks in part to modest rebounds in property tax revenues, city officials said last week.

But the Camas EMS' 11-cent levy increase proposal on ballots mailed out this week remains vital to the EMS Fund's continued health, they said, because it would replace two ambulances and provide continued emergency response for six years. Without the $7.5 million the levy is expected to bring between 2013-2018, EMS services would dry up, officials said.

"This is enormously important to all people," City Administrator Lloyd Halverson said, noting a "medical emergency could happen to anybody."

Residents would pay 46 cents per $1,000 assessed valuation on their property, according to the proposal on ballots mailed out this week. The proposal represents an 11-cent increase from 2006, when 62 percent of Camas voters supported an increase from 25 cents per $1,000. The deadline to vote on this year's levy is Aug. 7.

Simple majority needed

Residents whose property is worth $200,000 would pay $92 under the ballot proposal, up $22 from what they would have paid in 2006.

However, Camas Fire Chief Nick Swinhart expressed confidence voters would pass the EMS levy measure. The levy increase is not as large as it seems when viewed alongside inflation, he said, and the threshold to pass is a simple majority (50 percent plus 1 vote). In past years, it took 60 percent support to succeed.

Camas has 11,939 residents eligible to vote on the levy. The goal is still to receive 60 percent support, Swinhart noted, adding he believed fire officials did a good job explaining the levy's importance to city residents.

The difference in revenues raised over six years, should the new levy pass, would be around $1.8 million, said Alicia Ramsey, an administrative assistant

with the fire department.

For instance, the levy would provide the Camas EMS Fund $1.18 million in 2013 -- up from around $900,000 in 2011.

Ambulances deteriorating

The department needs the measure to pass, in particular, so it can upgrade its ambulance fleet.

"Sometimes we literally are taping them with duct tape" to keep them running, Swinhart said.

The Camas EMS system also serves Washougal and unincorporated east Clark County. Washougal residents pay 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation on the EMS levy -- with 35 cents going toward Camas EMS and 15 cents going toward the Washougal Fire Department. East County Fire & Rescue patrons pay 35 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

Camas and Washougal's fire departments are participating in a temporary merger through the end of 2013. Should that merger become permanent in 2014, the levy amounts paid by residents of each city could be re-evaluated, Halverson said.

Ray Legendre: 360-735-4517; www.facebook.com/raylegend;www.twitter.com/col_smallcities;ray.legendre@columbian.com