(TNS) - Thurston County residents will see an increased levy on their property taxes next year if they approve a pending ballot initiative to fund emergency services.
Funds raised from the levy would support Medic One, the county's 911 emergency medical services system.
County residents have periodically authorized a version of this levy since 1974, said County Manager Ramiro Chavez during a board meeting Tuesday. However the levy has not been updated since 1999 when it was made permanent, Chavez said.
"It is pretty evident that a shortfall is projected in Medic One in the future, which can jeopardize the services that we provide," Chavez said.
If approved, the levy would increase to 35 cents per $1,000 in assessed property value in 2022 and then up to $0.03 more per year through 2027 for a final rate of $0.50 per $1,000, according to a draft of the ordinance.
Currently, the levy stands at 28.9 cents $1,000, per the ordinance. For a homeowner with a house valued at $400,000, the levy would cost $140 in 2022, up from $115.60 now.
By 2027, the levy amount for that year would be used to compute limits on future levies, essentially setting a new baseline. The ordinance also states senior citizens, disabled people and veterans would be exempt from the rate increase.
The Board of County Commissioners plans to hold a hearing on April 13 to gather public comment on the proposed rate increase. After the hearing, the board may approve an ordinance that would put the issue on the Aug. 3 ballot for a simple yes or no vote.
County staff and the Emergency Medical Services Council, a 16-member advisory board, have been working within the limitation of their budget, Chavez said, but inflation is making the current rate unsustainable.
Kurt Hardin, director of Thurston County Medic One, said voters previously set the Medic One levy at 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. By law, however, the levy has only been able to be increased by 1% plus new construction above the previous year without voter approval. Medical inflation has been higher than that, he said.
"The millage of the 50 cents per thousand has been dropping down steadily over the years," Hardin said. "Now it stands at 28.9 cents per thousand, but the cost of doing business has been increasing approximately 5% a year over the last 10 years."
At the same time, property values have been increasing at a higher rate than the levy can increase by law, said assistant county manager Robin Campbell.
"Part of the reason that the price per thousand has been going down is property values have been going up at a rate greater than 1% per year," Campbell said. "The amount you can raise the levy is only half that 1% per year."
EMS Council unanimously recommended bringing the levy increase to the county commissioners, Hardin said.
Chavez said the county is bringing up the issue now because the commission would need to submit the ballot measure to the county auditor by May to place it on the August ballot.
The public hearing will be at 3 p.m. April 13 at the Thurston County Courthouse, Building One, in Room 280. Residents also can attend virtually via Zoom or call in to share their comments. Directions for how to watch or attend are posted on the Thurston County board of county commissioners website.
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