The residents of Franklin County Fire District 3 could go to the polls this fall to determine if they want to pay for a tax increase that would ensure they continue to get emergency medical services.
But the city of Pasco says it might have a better offer for them.
Fire District 3 Chief Les Litzenberger said that at next month's meeting, the district's board will consider putting a 32 cents per $1,000 tax assessment levy lid lift before voters. With voter approval, the fire district's levy would go up to the maximum $1.50 that's legally allowed.
The 150-square-mile district has been using reserve funds to pay for two of its own ambulances since it ended an agreement with Pasco after the city attempted to raise what it had been charging the district for emergency medical services by 500 percent. But Litzenberger said it can only fund the basic medical services through February 2014.
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Litzenberger said it's not certain whether the fire district would be able to fund emergency services beyond the basic service even if the ballot measure passes. But the goal is to offer advanced life support services for everyone served by the district.
Advance life support would allow for paramedics to be on the ambulances. Litzenberger said paramedics can administer drugs, including with a syringe.
"They can stick you with a stick," he said. "The EMTs can't."
The increased levy would cost the owner of a $200,000 home an average of about $5.33 a month, or $64 per year.
But Pasco City Manager Gary Crutchfield said the city is offering residents of Fire District 3 a choice of primary and secondary emergency response services. And the programs could end up costing residents less than the fire district is asking them to pay.
For primary response, where an ambulance with a paramedic would be dispatched immediately after a 911 call, the city is offering fire district residents service for $75 a year. Crutchfield said the city is looking to offer the services to the 2,100 Fire District 3 residents at the same rate it does for Pasco residents, $6.25 a month.
"If they contract with us for fire service, they don't need their own ambulance, so they only need to pay 15 cents (per $1,000)," he said.
The city also is offering secondary response service, in which a paramedic would be dispatched only if requested by Fire District 3. That would cost each resident $24 annually, or $2 a month.
But the city's quickest response time to Fire District 3 would be with contracting the city for primary response service, Pasco Fire Chief Bob Gear said.
"It just means we'd be dispatched right away," Gear said. "People would get much better service because they wouldn't have to evaluate it before they call us."
The city says it can offer a superior response time to the volunteer service in Fire District 3 in the "doughnut hole" in west Pasco, where most of the fire district's residents live. The city has two of its three fire stations near the unincorporated area.
"We can get to the doughnut hole as fast or faster than they can, with a paramedic," Crutchfield said.
Around 10 percent of the fire district's calls require advanced medical services, Litzenberger said. The district has access to paramedic services at no cost through a contract with American Medical Response, a private company.
"But they also are not always available," Litzenberger said.
Litzenberger doesn't rule out having the district provide its own basic life support services while contracting with Pasco for advanced life support.
The fire district's board will consider putting the levy lid lift on the November ballot at its meeting at 5 p.m. July 9. Meetings are held at 2108 N. Road 84 in Pasco.
Along with keeping the ambulances, the increased tax revenue would pay for medical supplies, equipment and training and wages for firefighters, who double as EMTs.
Another Fire District 3 vote to establish a separate EMS levy in addition to the fire levy was rejected by 60 percent of voters last year. That proposal required 60 percent voter approval. The proposal to increase fire tax collections only needs approval from a simple majority of the voters.