Mid-Columbia Voices: Levy lid lift essential to continued emergency medical service

As fire chief for Franklin Fire District 3, I was deeply disturbed to see the recent editorial about our levy lid lift. If people vote accordingly, it puts our community at risk of losing its emergency medical service (EMS) program.

Regardless of who provides the service, there can be no EMS program for our community without funding from this lid lift. We do not have the resources to maintain our program -- or even pay for a contract with Pasco -- without additional revenue.

A group of local citizens pursued the idea of a "household fee" with the county government. However, county commissioners turned down the idea because they believed it was a new tax.

Fire District 3 started its own EMS program to control costs and provide more accountability to our taxpayers. This happened when Pasco informed us that it would increase our rates for EMS by 500 percent -- and, frankly, there wasn't a darn thing we could do about it. The cost to provide service is determined by Pasco, and our community has no say in the matter because we can't vote for or against the people making the decisions. The only option left for us was to start our own EMS program.

We didn't take this decision lightly. The Board of Fire Commissioners approved temporary funding through our reserve account for one year. We then put together a Citizen Advisory Committee of 25 people from our community and asked them what they thought. The general consensus was that the time was right to offer this level of service to our community and ask them to support it through a lid lift.

This decision was no different than when Fire District 3 formed 60 years ago. A group of farmers came together to meet the emergency service needs of our community -- just like they did to bring power to our area through the local PUD. We do what we need to do to take care of our own, and EMS is a growing need in our fire district. In five years, EMS calls have increased by almost 10 percent to more than half of all emergencies.

Our taxpayers now control costs through their vote for levies as well as their elected board of fire commissioners. Our equipment lasts longer because we have fewer calls than neighboring agencies. The biggest savings, however, is in personnel costs. Fire District 3 primarily responds to calls using professionally trained volunteers instead of full-time personnel. This saves taxpayers millions of dollars each year.

In the first few years, we will have startup costs to purchase ambulances, medical equipment and supplies, as well as provide training for emergency personnel. Part of the lid lift will be used to replenish our reserves, which have been funding the program since February. Eventually, levy funds can be used to expand the EMS program to offer additional services, such as advanced life support care with paramedics.

With our own EMS program, your tax dollars serve your community as opposed to being sent somewhere else such as Pasco. And we are good stewards of your tax dollars, operating under a balanced budget and passing all our accountability audits by the state.

The fact remains that our EMS program is more cost-effective and accountable to our taxpayers. And if this lid lift fails because of the editorial board's recommendation, we will no longer be able to afford to provide it.

w Les Litzenberger is fire chief of Franklin County Fire District 3. The fire district is asking voters to approve a levy lid lift of 32-cents per $1,000 of assessed value (approximately $64 per year, or $5.33 per month for the owner of a $200,000 home) on the November ballot.