City council votes to support EMS sales tax
Blaine has joined other cities in the county supporting a new plan for countywide emergency medical services (EMS), and a new tax to fund it.
At their August 22 meeting, Blaine city council unanimously approved a resolution to support the plan, which will cut costs for the county’s Medic One paramedic system by limiting their response to life-threatening emergencies and transferring basic life support (BLS) to the first responders from local fire districts. A new sales tax will provide a stable funding source for the Medic One system, which – even trimmed to cover only advanced life support – will have an anticipated shortfall of $11 million from 2007 through 2012.
“Reserves will run dry by next fall,” said police chief Mike Haslip. To meet state legal requirements the new tax will need to be approved by all the cities and county council by September 13 in order to get on the November general election ballot or wait until the November 2006 election. “If this doesn’t happen now this measure doesn’t go on the ballot until weeks before the system runs dry,” Haslip said. “That’s not holding a sword over anyone’s head, that’s just how the system works.”
If county council approves the plan this fall, voters will be asked to approve a new one-tenth of 1 percent sales tax that will be split between the cities and the county to support both EMS and criminal justice.
The state mandates that the county can keep 60 percent of the funds while the cities get 40 percent, and each must use one-third of their share for new criminal justice purposes, not to supplant existing funding. The remaining two-thirds of the money will go into the shared account to fund the countywide EMS system.
County executive Pete Kremen formed the working group that developed the plan after the 2003 voter rejection of a countywide 38.5 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation EMS property tax levy, intended to keep the Medic One program operation.
Kremen has said he expects the new sales tax-funded plan will be met with a better reception at the polls because it represents less total dollars and a more equitable distribution of the tax burden.
Haslip said council members should not expect the new tax to be the last they hear of an EMS system shortfall, since proposal does not address funding needs after 2010.
“Sometime between now and 2009 we’ll have to come back and face the funding shortfall again,” he said.
Haslip said he anticipates another one-tenth of a percent health and safety tax will be needed.