Fire and EMS services could receive additional funding if measure passes in November
WASHOUGAL — With less than 100 days until the 2020 election, the Washougal City Council added a resolution to the ballot Monday night, to give voters a choice on their fire and emergency medical services (EMS) levy lid lift.
The lift, if passed, would renew the current lid lift of $0.10 per $1,000 of assessed property value. The levy would last for six years, during which the city council could move to ask voters for another increase; likely $0.15.
“From our recent survey, that was really held mostly in March, we did note that voters pretty much overwhelmingly showed strong support for a replacement 10 cents,” said Washougal Mayor Molly Coston. “We do have an opportunity to add additional dollars in the following years, should we decide to put this on the ballot at 10 cents and then add more later. So that’ll be a discussion for another year.”
In the community survey, more than 80 percent of respondents favored a $0.10 lift, which equates to about $40 annually for the average home. In November, 50 percent approval is needed to pass a levy lift. On the higher figure $0.15, Washougal attained that, but fell short on amounts like $0.25.
Very high levels of support for re-upping the levy were the main motivation behind the unanimous vote for adding Resolution 1189 to the ballot for Washougal voters, but also necessity. In their July 13 workshop with council, city staff outlined a potential $171,400 loss in revenue if no lid lift was passed.
“This replacement levy lid lift will allow the city to maintain current service levels and will not provide funds for additional programs staffing in 2021,” said Washougal Finance Director Jennifer Forsberg. “The council has indicated a desire to explore an additional lift in 2021 which would provide funds for additional staffing.”
The Camas-Washougal Fire Department would be the primary beneficiary of the funding, and would continue to serve 33,000 residents for fire service and 65,000 for EMS. The department is the only department in Clark County that provides both fire and ambulance services.
When City Manager David Scott first presented the options to adopt a lift to council on July 13, there was also conversation about the potential strain a lift could put on some residents due to COVID-19.
“We’re kind of stuck right now a little bit in terms of the opening of our economy and working through this pandemic, because all of the data is kind of moving in the wrong direction,” Scott said. “There was a lot of conversation about the stability and perceived safety of asking for a dime, 80 percent support in the survey feels pretty good.”
Scott also explained how any excess, when and if the council achieved passage of more than the $0.10, would be used to fight inflationary pressures within the fire and EMS programs. Apparatus and equipment costs as well as staffing continue to go up, even at status quo he said.
In their discussion on July 13, councilors weighed the possibility of going with $0.15 in 2020, but decided against it after taking into account the pressures imposed by the pandemic. The $0.15 is still a lucrative option in the near future since it would be a gesture of goodwill to Camas, as they share the fire department, several council members said.
“I think people hear, ‘More firefighters? Well, we don’t have that issue. We’re not a big city. We’re not having all these fires all the time,’” said Councilor Alex Yost at the July 13 workshop. “It’s not just putting out fires, it’s also helping you on the medical side too … what these individuals are doing and the services that they’re providing. I think within the context of COVID, and the pandemic, I’m definitely still kind of torn between the 10 and 15, but more comfortable with 10 for Washougal.”