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Skagit officials favor tax increase to cover need for emergency services

Number of EMS calls has increased by 25% over the past four years

Skagit County voters will likely cast ballots in April for a renewed emergency medical services levy.
Skagit County voters will cast ballots in April for a renewed emergency medical services levy. (Andy Bronson/Cascadia Daily News)
By Ralph Schwartz Local Government Reporter

Skagit County voters should expect to receive ballots in April that include a request for a property tax increase for emergency medical services.

As currently proposed, the measure would raise the property tax for EMS from 31.6 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value, as of 2023, to 47 cents per $1,000, beginning in 2025.

The 15.4-cent increase would cost the owner of a $550,000 home in Skagit County an additional $85.80 per year.

The most recent levy, approved by voters in 2018, set the levy rate at 44 cents. Since then, it has dropped below 32 cents as property values rose much more than the maximum-allowed 1% annual increase in total tax collections.

State law caps EMS collections at 50 cents per $1,000.

County commissioners have not yet voted to put the EMS levy on the ballot, but they spoke favorably of the proposed measure at a public hearing on Monday, Jan. 22.

“We need this 47 cents in order to just continue that responsiveness, so when people call 911 … there’s someone there right away,” Commissioner Lisa Janicki said. 

The commission will likely vote Monday, Jan. 29 to place the measure on the April 23 ballot.

The tax dollars would continue to be spent on training for paramedics and emergency medical technicians, equipment, ambulance maintenance and replacement, and fuel, EMS Director Josh Pelonio told commissioners.

The number of EMS calls has increased by 25% over the past four years, Pelonio said.

“Last year, our partner agencies responded to just over 18,000 EMS calls for service, and just over 50 percent of those resulted in a transport to the hospital,” he said.

Mount Vernon Fire Chief Bryan Brice told commissioners the cost of medical supplies alone went up $50,000 in 2023.

“So the City of Mount Vernon strongly advocates for the 47 (cents),” Brice said. “We actually advocate for the 50 cents, taking the maximum, to offset the cost of ambulances, equipment and personnel in the future.”

Commissioner Peter Browning also spoke of the importance of the levy, saying that 911 calls were only going to continue increasing.

“We do have an aging population and will for the next 15 to 20 years,” Browning said. “During that period, we’re going to have more and more need (for EMS services).”

No one at Monday’s public hearing spoke in opposition to the levy proposal.

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