Franklin County ballot measure calls for emergency medical service funds

Franklin County Fire District 3 is going ahead with a November ballot measure that would continue to fund emergency medical services.

But who would provide the services is still uncertain.

The 32-cents-per-$1,000 tax assessment levy lid lift, which fire district commissioners unanimously voted to place on the November ballot at their Tuesday meeting, would continue funding basic emergency services in the 150-square-mile district beyond February 2014. That's when the district projects the reserve funds it is using to fund emergency services will run out.

The city of Pasco says it can offer emergency medical services, with paramedics, for only 15 cents per $1,000.

While it is possible the fire district could use the increased tax revenue to contract with Pasco or someone else, Chief Les Litzenberger said the community has expressed a desire to see tax dollars stay in the district, instead of going to Pasco.

"It was important to our community advisory committee that Fire District 3 is able to provide much of the services," Litzenberger said of a group that worked with the district while putting together the levy increase proposal.

But either way, the district will have no way of paying for emergency medical services if the measure fails Nov. 5, Litzenberger said.

City Manager Gary Crutchfield said the Pasco offer would cost owners of a $200,000 home an extra $30 a year, compared to $64 that the fire district would charge. He assumes the fire district is asking for so much more than the city because it wants to use the extra revenue it raises for firefighting, instead of emergency medical services, he said.

But Litzenberger said all the money the fire district would raise from the lid lift, if passed, will go toward emergency medical services. He still needs to review an offer letter that Crutchfield sent the fire district this week, he added.

The fire district has been providing basic service with two ambulances after it stopped using the city of Pasco for emergency services. The city attempted to raise what it charges the fire district for emergency medical services by 500 percent.

The city said it was only looking to bring what it charges the fire district in line with what it charges its own residents.

Most of the 2,100 residents of the fire district are in the "doughnut hole" area surrounded by west Pasco. The city's proposal would send an ambulance with a paramedic immediately on a 911 call. A paramedic can administer drugs, unlike an emergency medical technician.

"We're offering to provide paramedic-level service for 15 cents," Pasco Fire Chief Bob Gear said.

Another option Crutchfield proposed was a less-expensive secondary response service that would provide an ambulance with a paramedic only if requested by the fire district. That would mean slower response times, but not as high of a payment, about $10 a year for a $200,000 home.

The city proposes an annual fee to the fire district of $50,000 for secondary services, or 5 cents per $1,000 valuation. That would be only 32 percent of what Pasco residents are charged for full emergency medical services.

"On the other hand, though, the district would require some additional amount of property tax support to operate its own (basic life support) ambulance service," Crutchfield wrote.

Around 10 percent of the fire district's calls require paramedics, Litzenberger said.

-- Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543; gfolsom@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @GeoffFolsom