This summer, north county residents will decide the fate of a major funding tool that keeps North Country Emergency Medical Service running.
Every three to five years, the Yacolt-based ambulance provider asks voters if they would like to continue supporting the service’s excess property tax levy. The levy charges homeowners in the service area $1.50 for every $1,000 of assessed value of their homes annually.
The revenue helps cover the next three years of the service’s costs for maintenance, operations and staff salaries, and it supports one-third of the operating budget.
Voters in Yacolt and other areas of North County have typically shown strong support for the levy in the past, and this year it’s on the ballot again. The measure needs 60 percent voter approval to pass.
Should the levy pass, it’s projected to raise about $112,000 from Yacolt residents and more than $1.6 million from residents in its other service areas outside the town. The rest of the service’s funding comes from regular property tax revenue, donations and bills sent to patients’ insurance companies when they are transported to a hospital.
Without the levy, supporters say, North Country EMS wouldn’t be able to keep two ambulances ready to go at all times from its stations in Yacolt and Fargher Lake. They also note that the levy functions as a substitute for out-of-pocket bills for riding in an ambulance.
Opponents say voters would be better off saving their money.
Tom Clark, whose statement against the levy is featured in the voter’s pamphlet, called North Country EMS a wonderful program that has served Clark County with honor and distinction for nearly four decades. But Clark says this is no time to continue paying a tax when the opportunity to cut expenses is on the table.
“You will have less money to spend, so what do you cut?” he wrote. “It’s time we sent the message to Big Government that they are our representatives; we elected them to answer the hard questions, and the answer is not to raid our wallets.”
North Country EMS has been running since 1976 and supporters say it’s vital that the service maintain its staffing level. Its service area covers about 1,000 square miles stretching across north and northeast Clark, southeast Cowlitz and west central Skamania counties.