The fliers and the voters’ pamphlet prominently proclaim East Pierce Fire and Rescue’s emergency medical services levy is “not a new tax.”
But if the levy is not a new tax, why will district residents’ property taxes increase if the levy passes April 26?
Blame semantics and a complicated initiative for the confusion.
If the East Pierce measure gains a majority of voters’ approval, homeowners’ taxes for emergency medical services will be set at 50 cents for every $1,000 of assessed valuation next year. That move would amount to a $15 annual increase in property taxes on a home assessed at $250,000.
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That 50-cents per thousand is the same amount voters approved several years ago. But because of Initiative 747, approved by Washington voters in 2001, the district can’t collect the full amount of its voter-approved levy, explained East Pierce Fire Chief Bud Backer.
That initiative limited taxing districts to increasing their previous year’s tax revenues by 1 percent. As home values began reviving after the recession waned, the district had to pare back its tax rate to stay within the 101 percent limit. The effect was a reduction in the levy rate from 50 cents per $1,000 to this year’s 44 cents.
That’s the lowest of nine Pierce County fire districts. West Pierce, Orting, Key Peninsula and Ashford all operate on a 50-cent rate for emergency medical services.
East Pierce has tried to live within the lower levy rate, but costs and demands for service are rising faster than the initiative’s 1 percent annual increase allows, Backer said. I-747 allows districts to go above the 1 percent increase if a majority of voters approve.
“If you asked a private business person if they could continue to stay in business if their revenues grew by just 1 percent a year, their answer would be ‘no,’ ” he said.
Calls for medical aid have risen by 16 percent since the original 50-cent levy was approved four years ago, said William Sandlian, an East Pierce firefighter who heads the campaign to lift the levy lid.
East Pierce Fire and Rescue serves several fast-growing communities on the east side of Pierce County. The district includes 88,200 people who live in Bonney Lake, Sumner, Lake Tapps, South Prairie, Edgewood, Milton and large areas of unincorporated Pierce County. The district covers 151 square miles and operates 12 stations — six staffed, four volunteer, one logistics station, and one facility on Lake Tapps for the marine rescue unit.
The levy’s approval would raise the district’s revenues by about $600,000 annually. Those extra funds would allow the department to train additional firefighters as emergency medical technicians, setting the stage for a possible increase in the four medic units the district now fields. Backer said the district sometimes has to call on medic units from neighboring fire departments because its units are all occupied.
No organized opposition has emerged to the levy measure.
John Gillie: 253-597-8663