We all play a part in San Juan Island Emergency Medical Services. The roles of the paramedics, the volunteer Emergency Medical Technicians, the EMS Chief and staff, are obvious. Thankfully, the Hospital District Board of Directors is now fulfilling its responsibility of providing oversight. And now its our turn, as citizens, to do our part and vote to approve the new SJEMS levy.
I advocated for the defeat of the previous levies, believing the budget was based on faulty numbers. There was a lack of transparency and lack of oversight by the Hospital District Board.
There have been positive changes since those two elections. There is a new chief who is finding more efficient ways to operate the administrative side of the agency. He has hired a new billing company and is getting to the bottom of the cause of the ridiculously large accounts receivable.
The five-member Public Hospital District Board is now paying attention and providing the oversight that was missing for years. Of course there is a difference between micro-managing and oversight. This board understands its role and its responsibilities. Between the new chief and the new board, the agency is in good hands.
No one has ever questioned the skill and integrity of the volunteer EMTs and the paramedics. It is sad that there are hard feelings in the community. I hope a positive election result will go a long way toward healing the rift the situation during the past two years has created.
The Public Hospital District Board and the chief have made the case for the need for the increased levy. The current $.35 per thousand will not provide sufficient funding for the agency to keep providing the services we've all come to know and expect. This includes the no out-of-pocket costs for residents. The amount paid by insurance or medicare, etc. is considered payment in full. Non-residents must pay the entire bill.
Levies are confusing in the best of circumstances. EMS levies are different than most. While the majority of other levies are permanent - you only vote on them when they want to bump up their levy rate - EMS and recreation districts's levies expire after six years. In order for the organizations to continue, voters must approve new levies every six years.
The other difference is the levy RATE for EMS levies is set and can't fluctuate up when property values go down. Other junior taxing districts - schools, libraries, fire departments, etc. - collect higher rates if necessary to maintain their funding. In other words, those organizations can collect at a rate necessary to generate the amount of revenue authorized. EMS cannot do that. If property rates go down, the amount of revenue they can collect drops.
One thing in common for all taxing districts is the amount collected cannot increase more than one percent per year. (To be exact, the increase is one percent plus the revenue from the value of new construction).
So if property values suddenly went up, EMS would not be in for a windfall. They could only collect the 2017 amount plus, if the board approves, another one percent. In other words the rate can drop but cannot exceed the rate approved by the voters.
There are a couple of rumors circulating about the levy situation. The truth is:
1. Emergency medical services will NOT magically continue if the levy isn't approved. There isn't another agency that is funded, insured, or staffed to fulfill the responsibility of providing emergency medical care and transport. PeaceHealth is not interested in operating such a service. According to Chief Martin there would be enough funding to operate for only three months into the new year if the levy is rejected.
2. If voters turn down the levy request on August 2, 2016, the board is NOT going to ask for a lower levy rate on the general election ballot.
Please join me in voting Yes on the San Juan EMS levy. Let's keep our highly respected and skilled paramedics and volunteer EMTs. It would be foolish to lose what we are fortunate enough to have.