I understand it is sometimes difficult to comprehend how an issue on the ballot might affect you, your family and your loved ones. After all, we all have more important things to do and consider, right?
However, the EMS levy should not be overlooked. The emergency medical services levy, commonly referred to as the EMS levy is a countywide property tax levy of fifty cents per $1,000 of the assessed value of property to augment and provide emergency medical care and services by Walla Walla Fire Department Ambulance Service, Walla Walla County fire districts and College Place Fire Department. This vote is to maintain or continue the existing levy for another six years.
I asked myself: Why should I vote for the EMS levy? I have never been a passenger in an ambulance in my life. Maybe I should vote ‘no’ and consider saving a few bucks, right?
Before you decide the EMS levy is not important and possibly vote no, let’s take a look into the future and ask a simple question. “Do you believe a person in your immediate or extended family or a loved one living or visiting within Walla Walla County will need emergency medical assistance, including emergency medical transport, in the next six years?”
Hard question to answer, isn’t it? If they do, what type of emergency medical assistance or service do you expect or want to have provided?
The EMS Levy funds are divided between four organizations providing various levels of emergency services to citizens. Walla Walla Fire Department Ambulance Service receives 51% of the levy dollars collected and provides Advanced Life Support services to all portions of Walla Walla County.
In addition, the County Emergency Management System Office receives a small amount, and the balance of the funds are shared with College Place Fire Department and the several regional Walla Walla County Fire Districts, who all provide various levels of emergency medical response and transport services.
Now that I have provided the statistics, what does this really mean to a Valley resident? I will speak about the regional Walla Walla Fire Department Ambulance Service, which is what I know the most about.
The city-sponsored ambulance service is what is referred to as an “enterprise fund,” and the regional ambulance program is expected to be self-supporting from revenues collected similar to other city enterprise services such as water and sewer services.
However, with less medical revenue being collected because of cuts by the largest two payees, Medicare and Medicaid, along with higher operational costs, last year the cities’ regional ambulance fund had to be supplemented from city general fund revenues by approximately $400,000.
Now, consider the EMS levy, which provides approximately 40% of the operating revenue for this ambulance fund. If the EMS levy were to go away, the ambulance service that we know today in Walla Walla would drastically change, and we would no longer have our outstanding ALS system which we take pride in and also saves citizen lives.
There is a difference with an ambulance having new life support equipment and equipment that is a decade old. I believe everyone wants the best life-saving equipment available when it is needed and pulls up to their residence. Ambulances also need to be replaced after approximately eight years of service for efficiency and to maintain dependability.
Additionally, there is a big difference between paramedics, who are allowed to start IVs, perform invasive procedures, intubations or administer medications and operating under protocols approved by the Walla Walla County medical program director, compared to basic-level ambulance staff that can only stabilize patients with basic treatment and provide transport to local medical facilities.
One discussion point some citizens are asking about concerns the on-going deliberations between the cities of Walla Walla, College Place and the Walla Walla County Fire Protection District 4 to form a single Regional Fire District or, put another way, consolidating services.
If this comes to fruition, which I support, we have to believe all emergency medical providers will work collaboratively to build the best response model using all three transport organizations to ultimately provide the best emergency care for citizens and use the funds from the EMS levy to best serve the public.
So, let’s quickly do the math. On a $250,000 home, the assessment is $125 annually. Is quality emergency response and transportation from your home or from an automobile accident site worth the investment? Isn’t having good equipment and well-trained staff ready to provide quality care something that you want during an emergency?
When an ambulance pulls up to provide emergency services, I assume your expectation is the ambulance is well stocked with needed supplies, equipment and trained staff.
Finally, the EMS levy is a replacement levy that, if approved, will continue what has been in place for many years. All citizens in Walla Walla County vote on this levy every six years and it is considered a maintenance levy.
If it is approved, it will continue like it has for many years without an increase in taxation over what is currently being collected.
In conclusion, I want to thank all emergency care providers for the services they unselfishly provide to the citizens in our Valley. They save lives as well as prevent further injury by being prepared for emergencies and are trained for the unexpected.