Local Election

Election 2016: Whatcom’s EMS levy too close to call in early ballot tally

This year Whatcom County Emergency Medical Services was funded by about $7.3 million in revenue, but is expected to come up about $1 million short of covering costs by year’s end, and reserves will have dwindled to under $300,000.
This year Whatcom County Emergency Medical Services was funded by about $7.3 million in revenue, but is expected to come up about $1 million short of covering costs by year’s end, and reserves will have dwindled to under $300,000. pdwyer@bhamherald.com

A levy to better fund paramedic service in Whatcom County had 59.78 percent of the vote – a quarter-point under the threshold it needs to pass – in initial ballot counts late Tuesday.

As of the last count of the night, the “yes” vote was leading 46,866 to 31,358. Sixty percent is needed, however, for the levy to pass. So for the time being, the measure is failing by less than 180 votes.

Thousands of ballots remain to be counted.

Proponents of the emergency medical services levy, or the county’s Proposition No. 1, say the property tax of 29.5 cents per $1,000 of value would:

▪ Add a fifth ambulance staffed by paramedics for Whatcom County.

▪ Cover the salary of a new administrator to oversee the system.

▪ Build up about $10 million in reserves by the time the levy expires in six years. This year, the county had to dig into reserves to cover a $1 million shortfall, and by the end of the year, the funds will sink to an estimated $300,000.

Opponents counter that the ambulance system is already good, and that officials want to raise taxes before finishing the research on how to spend the money. Also, they argue that the data, in a report made by those in favor of the levy, does not support the need for a fifth ambulance.

The levy would be a new tax. It’s almost entirely related to funding advanced life support services, the 911 calls for the most life-threatening medical emergencies. Local fire districts provide their own basic life support services with their own tax situation.

Paramedic responses in Whatcom County are paid for through four streams of revenue this year: user fees covered $2.5 million, a local sales tax brought in $2.3 million, and the general funds of Whatcom County and Bellingham paid for $2.5 million.

Passage of the levy would eliminate the general fund contributions. Those in support say that makes it a more stable source of revenue.

In the first ballot released Tuesday night, 59.998 percent of ballots were in support of the levy. Two more votes would have put it above 60 percent.

Caleb Hutton: 360-715-2276, @bhamcaleb

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