Voters approve Bremerton EMS levy

After a summer spent campaigning, Bremerton Fire Department personnel can breath a sigh of relief.

Bremerton citizens approved the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) measure on the Aug. 19 ballot. Roughly 73 percent of voters approved the levy, which needed 60 percent to pass.

“I’m extremely pleased with the citizens’ support of the fire department especially during these difficult financial times,” Bremerton Fire Chief Al Duke said.

State law allows taxing districts to collect 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation of a person’s property tax for EMS services and the levy passed in 2003 at 50 cents per $1,000 decreased to 31 cents. The newly elected levy raises the property tax back up to 50 cents.

For a Bremerton homeowner with a house value of $200,000, the EMS levy costs taxpayers $38 more a year or an increase of $3.16 a month.

The levy allows the Bremerton Fire Department to hire seven to eight people to staff a third medic unit at the downtown Bremerton station. Staffing at the station is currently paid for through a contract with South Kitsap Fire & Rescue. The contract caused the Bremerton Fire Department to lose a shift supervisor position, but the department now regains that position with the levy’s passage.

Duke said the Bremerton Fire Department has less staff than Central Kitsap Fire & Rescue and South Kitsap Fire & Rescue, but they run the same number of calls a year.

He said calls for EMS services steadily increase each year. In 2007, the Bremerton Fire Department received 7,542 calls for EMS services. Duke said calls for service will continue to rise as the elderly population increases with more senior and assisted-living apartment complexes being built in Bremerton.

Hiring more staff for the downtown fire station will allow paramedics to quickly respond to calls for assistance, according to Duke.

The current levy expires after 2009, but the fire department decided to run the election a year early because the levy rate was dropping rapidly. If the EMS levy expired, the Bremerton Fire Department could have put it on next year’s ballot as well. However, if it again did not pass in 2009, the Bremerton Fire Department would have lost $1.8 million.

“So almost a $2 million loss to the budget,” Duke said.

He said he’s pleased with the Bremerton Fire Department personnel who spread the word about the EMS levy by posting signs and passing out information this summer.

“We spent a lot of time and energy trying to get the message out,” Duke said.

The EMS levy has been in existence since 1980 and must be voted on every six years. The EMS levy passed every year except 1979.

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