EMS levy backers take to the streets

MARYSVILLE "We feel that personal contact is what is needed," said Marysville Fire District Captain Jeff Cole.

Also the head of the local fire union, Cole is chairing the appropriately named "EMS- Yes" levy campaign.

The Marysville Fire District along with Fire District 12 each has placed a levy lid lift on the Aug. 19 primary ballot.

Although they operate as a combined service, Cole said the Marysville Fire District serves the city, while District 12 covers portions of unincorporated Snohomish County.

According to Cole and Marysville Fire District Chief Greg Corn, if voters approve the issues, both emergency districts again would collect the full amount voters approved in both areas when they last passed an EMS levy in 2004.

At that time, voters said OK to chipping in 50 cents per $1,000 in property value.

But as many Washington voters probably know, thanks to Initiative 747 passed statewide several years ago, levies only can increase in value 1 percent each year no matter how much property values rise. That's the case even if it means a levy is not collecting as much it did in the past.

Currently, Cole said that due to Initiative 747, the Marysville district is collecting 34 cents per $1,000 in property valuation on the 2004 levy. District 12 is taking in 38 cents.

Cole added that for an average home valued at $300,000, returning either levy to its original 50 cents per $1,000 in property value would cost homeowners $48 per year.

According to Corn, levy passage would raise about $724,000 over current collections. The new collection rates would take effect in 2009.

In terms of gaining voter approval of the two issues, Cole and his committee plan what he termed a very grassroots effort, an effort he expected to kick into high gear shortly after the July 4 holiday. Volunteers should be asking homeowners to put up yard signs supporting the levy, while larger signs will be placed in other strategic spots.

Perhaps more importantly, Cole's committee plans a door-to-door campaign.

"We have a huge number of volunteers ready to go out doorbelling," he said, adding the levy committee is working with a small campaign fund.

"It's going to be boots on the street that move this thing," Cole said.

Talking before City Council in May, Corn said it only makes sense to place both issues before the appropriate group of voters simultaneously. Perhaps most importantly, he said the two always have gone to voters at the same time in order to maintain a balance in funding between the services. He also said it is cheaper to hold one election for both districts than running two issues at different times.

Because both issues are levy lid lifts, both will need a simple majority to pass. No supermajority will be needed. However, Corn noted the original levies did require approval by a supermajority of voters.

Again speaking before City Council, Corn said if voters turned down either issue, the fire district could keep service levels at their current levels for a few years.

"We are trying to be proactive, get ahead of the curve," he said, adding he didn't want to have to go before voters and talk about service cuts if an issue didn't pass.

Corn also noted the amount the levies collect only will keep falling until voters act. For example, if voters don't approve the lid lift, the Marysville Fire District levy will bring in 30 cents next year, 28 cents the following year. At the same time, Corn said operating costs only are going to continue to rise.

"I don't think I need to talk about fuel costs, everybody know what they are doing," Corn said.

"We can't continue to offer the same high level of service we've always offered if this fails," Cole said of the levy efforts. "It becomes kind of a downward slope."

Should either issue fail come August, Corn seemed to feel there is a good chance officials would refloat the measures during the fall general election.

While Cole is a fire captain for the Marysville District, he said he is heading up the levy committee on his own time. Just as school teachers can't actively promote school levies in the classroom, election rules prohibit firefighters from promoting levies during on-duty hours.

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