Levy lid lift on ballot for North County Fire & EMS

North County Fire & EMS is asking voters to increase property taxes they pay for its fire levy, restoring the rate to 2008 levels to make up for lost ground against inflation and rising property values.

If the Nov. 6 general election ballot measure is approved, voters in the Stanwood and North Snohomish County area would see the fire levy increase from $1.36 back to $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value, the same amount approved over a decade ago.

Levy rates fall over time as property values rise, limiting the regional fire authority to roughly the same amount of revenue per year.

The 14-cent lid lift would last for six years, costing the owner of a $350,000 home an additional $4.08 per month, or $49 per year.

“It should bring us back to where we can focus our efforts on the equipment, training and personnel to staff the department to the next level,” Fire Chief John Cermak said.

The agency provides fire suppression and emergency medical service to 25,000 people over 110 square miles encompassing Bryant, Freeborn, Warm Beach, the Stillaguamish Tribe, city of Stanwood and other areas north of Island Crossing.

Cermak said call volumes have increased 37% in the past five years due to growth and an aging population requiring more emergency care.

More calls mean added costs for equipment, fuel, maintenance and medical supplies, he said. Additional staffing and apparatus are also needed to maintain emergency response times and service levels for the community, he said.

Plus, he added, “Response times have started to increase and we want to stop this trend.”

Earlier this year, the North County Fire Board of Commissioners completed a strategic plan with input from residents. It addressed response to rising call volumes, and key capital projects and apparatus needs for the agency.

“The highest expectation from people was EMS delivery, and our equipment and personnel’s ability to respond appropriately to calls,” Cermak said.

The plan did not factor in inflation, he said. With a cap of 1% per year as allowed by state law and a 3.4% increase in inflation – slightly less in previous years – revenues were losing ground, despite the agency’s efforts to run efficiently and bolster funding with several grants.

Levy money would be used to hire six emergency personnel and supporting apparatus to respond to the higher call volumes, Cermak said.

More than 70 emergency personnel respond to about 4,200 calls per year, with about 70 percent of calls for EMS service. North County Fire & EMS is debt-free, Cermak added.