BIFD to seek permanent EMS levy

Enough with the Band-Aids, despite how long they stick.

Officials with the Bainbridge Island Fire Department want to make the agency’s property tax levy for emergency medical services permanent.

Fire commissioners recently agreed, by an unanimous vote, to put before voters a permanent EMS levy. It will appear on the Feb. 12 ballot, joining a $15 million capital projects measure sought by the Bainbridge Island School District.

The new permanent EMS levy will replace the department’s string of temporary levy requests.

Bainbridge voters last approved an EMS levy in 2009, and that 10-year levy expires at the end of 2019.

The 2009 request was based on a rate of 40 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value.

“We’re asking for it to be renewed for 40 cents again,” said Bainbridge Island Fire Chief Hank Teran.

Officials note that the EMS levy is a critical part of financing the fire department’s operations, and it can’t realistically be replaced by other sources of revenue.

The EMS levy provides 27 percent of the department’s total revenue this year, Teran said.

But the number of EMS calls on Bainbridge each year, the chief said, actually amounts to 70 percent of the emergency calls received by the fire department

“It’s actually critical,” Teran said of the EMS funding. “The 27 percent helps us maintain our paramedic and our EMT service to the community.”

State law allows fire districts to ask votes for EMS levies up to 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

Teran noted that the Bainbridge Island Fire Department has a reputation of being good stewards of taxpayer dollars, and commissioners decided to only ask for the amount that was needed: 40 cents.

If voters approve the levy in February, Bainbridge will still have the lowest EMS levy rate in Kitsap County.

North Kitsap Fire & Rescue currently has an EMS levy at 42 cents, followed by the Central Kitsap Fire & Rescue and Poulsbo Fire departments at 43 cents, and South Kitsap Fire &

Rescue at 44 cents.

Bainbridge also has the lowest general fire property tax levy, at 85 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation. The general fire levy is $1.32 per $1,000 of assessed valuation in Central Kitsap; $1.33 in North Kitsap; $1.35 in Poulsbo; and $1.49 in South Kitsap.

Voters resoundingly approved the Bainbridge department’s EMS levy in 2009, with a 73.5 percent “yes” vote.

Because the 2019 ballot measure calls for a permanent levy, the department will need a 60 percent supermajority vote for approval.

If the levy is reset by voters during February’s special election, it will mean a slight rise in property taxes.

Though the 2009 EMS levy was also set at 40 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value, the actual levy rate has fallen in recent years as the tax assessed valuation of properties on the island has risen overall.

As such, the Bainbridge department’s EMS levy rate now stands at 35 cents, and is projected to fall to 32 cents in 2019.

Resetting the levy at 40 cents will mean an additional $25 in property taxes for the owner of a $500,000 home.

Fire officials are hopeful the measure will pass and provide the department with a sustainable level of funding into the future.

“We’ve been very fortunate that the community has supported the Bainbridge Island Fire Department through the years,” Teran said.

“We lose it and we would have to have a reduction in our EMS services,” he said of the EMS levy. “It is such a foundation of the services that we provide, we’re asking that the community make this permanent.”