By Pat Jenkins The Dispatch The upcoming primary election is important to emergency medical services in south Pierce County. Voters in the particular jurisdictions will decide whether to continue levies that support EMS for South Pierce Fire and Rescue, the Town of Eatonville and Graham Fire and Rescue. South Pierce and Eatonville are each asking for six-year levies, while Graham is proposing a permanent levy. In each case, the money raised through property tax assessments would pay for equipment that the first-responders use in medical emergencies. Pierce County's elections department will mail ballots to registered voters July 15. The voters will have until Aug. 2 to make their decisions and either mail back their ballots or deposit them at official drop boxes. Here's what fire district and town officials are asking voters to keep in mind as they weigh the EMS requests.
South Pierce Fire and Rescue
This isn't a new tax GÇô far from it. The district has had a levy in place since 1979. It currently has a rate of 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation, and that rate would continue for six more years if voters approve. In addition to fire protection services and emergency medical aid, the district's residents are transported in aid cars to hospitals at no out-of-pocket expense. Only non-residents are charged for such transport. That service would continue if the new levy request passes, said fire chief Bob Vellias. District officials note that well-trained and equipped EMS responders supported by the levy provide medical care before a patient reaches the hospital. That attention is often the most important link in the "chain of survival,GÇ¥ Vellias said. The number of EMS calls has increased 14 percent since 2012. Last year, the district responded to a total of 2,564 emergency calls. Of those, more than 75 percent were for medical situations, according to the district. Twenty-five percent of South Pierce's budget comes from the EMS levy. The areas in the 130 square miles served by the district GÇô Eatonville, Clear Lake, Ohop Lake, La Grande, Roy, Lacamas, Harts Lake and McKenna GÇô have a combined population of more than 20,000.
Town of Eatonville
Voters living inside the town are being asked to authorize a collection of 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation over a six-year period. The money would be spent on the EMS personnel, supplies and vehicles that are managed for Eatonvllle residents by South Pierce Fire and Rescue under a five-yere contract that the Town Council approved last August. Revenue from the levy would be spent only for EMS services within the town. If Eatonville ever votes to join the South Pierce fire district, the money collected through the town-approved levy would go to the district for services within its boundaries, said Mayor Mike Schaub.
Graham Fire and Rescue
Since 1997, voters in the Graham district have approved levies of four to six years. District officials now are hoping voters will say yes to a permanent levy. In addition to locking in the revenue that supports emergency medical runs and the equipment for the job, a permanent levy would save the district's taxpayerrs the approximately $30,000 it costs to conduct levy elections when they come up, officials said. Fire chief Ryan Baskett said levy-generated funding is crucial for "an effectiveGÇ¥ EMS program for the residents of the 60,000-plus people living in the district's 70 square miles, including the Graham and Kapowsin areas. He added that that the district "works diligently to be fiscally responsible, accountable and provide the best service possible to the taxpayers.GÇ¥ In 2015, Graham Fire handled 6,331 calls. The majority were for medical services, officials said. The total number of calls last year was 6 percent higher than in 2014.