Thurston County residents may see increased property taxes over the next six years if voters approve more funding for the county's tiered, emergency medical service system later this year.
The Board of County Commissioners unanimously approved placing the levy issue on the Aug. 3 ballot during a public hearing on Tuesday.
The Medic One levy currently has a rate of 28.9 cents per $1,000 in assessed property value, said program director Kurt Hardin during the hearing. If voters approve the ballot measure, that rate would increase by 6 cents in 2022 and then 3 cents each year through 2027.
Hardin said the current rate amounts to a tax of $87 for a home valued at $300,000. If the voters approve the increase, a home valued at that same amount would see a total increase over six years of 21 cents per $1,000, or $63.
The county's Medic One system will start to see the impacts of a budget shortfall by 2022 if voters do not approve the levy increase, Hardin said.
"This budgetary shortfall will fall mostly on basic life support," Hardin said. "Medic One provides funding for all 12 fire agencies for their basic life support. That includes equipment, supplies, and costs for operating some of their vehicles."
If the ballot initiative fails, Hardin said fire agencies will most likely have to ask their local voters to approve funding. Otherwise, he said he anticipates the fire agencies will not be able to staff some of their units, creating increased response times.
Medic One integrates various EMS components into a tiered county-wide system, Hardin said. This system is comprised of 12 fire departments, two ambulance companies, about 700 EMS providers and two hospitals, he said.
Why is there a shortfall?
Voters authorized Medic One in 1974 and permanently approved a regular levy in 1999. In 2000, the levy was $5.7 million with a voter approved rate of 50 cents per 1,000 in assessed property value, according to Hardin.
This year, the levy is $11.7 million with a rate of 28.9 cents per $1,000. The rate has been driven down due to taxable values outpacing legally allowable tax increases.
Between 2000 and 2021, taxable values increased 255% while the tax increase has been limited to 105% over the same time period, he said.
Meanwhile, the Medic One budget has increased from $8.22 million in 2008 to 14.05 million in 2019, Hardin said. Yet, revenue has only increased from $8.35 million in 2008 to $11.10 million in 2019.
He said the budget increase is due to several factors including the introduction of 1.5 medic units, healthcare expenditures increasing annually at 5% over the past 10 years and increasing 911 EMS call volumes.
For comparison, there were 24,392 EMS calls in 2008 compared to 35,997 calls in 2019.
Medic One also has a fund balance that has been gradually decreasing as budget needs outpaced revenues. By next year, the balance will drop to $2.4 million, the minimum amount the program is required to maintain. Hardin said.
As a result, Hardin said Medic One will see a budget reduction of $211,301 in 2022 and $4.5 million in 2023 if the levy increase is not approved.