Board of Fire Commissioners to Discuss EMS Levy Lid Lift
Public Invited to Attend and Comment
The Board of Fire Commissioners for Benton County Fire District #4 will meet to discuss a possible levy lid lift for the community’s emergency medical service program. The meeting will take place on Thursday, March 17, 2022 at 6:00 p.m. Meeting access information can be found on the Fire District’s website at www.bcfd4.org.
Call volumes were up 22% in 2021 compared to the year before. EMS accounted for 62% of all calls the agency received last year.
“Thanks to our community, we are able to provide the best service available with trained paramedics,” said Fire Chief Paul Carlyle. “This is called ‘Advanced Life Support’ and means you are receiving the most advanced life-saving care from the time we arrive on scene to when we reach the hospital.”
Voters approved an EMS levy of $0.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value in 2016. Levy rates fall as property values rise to limit a fire district to roughly the same amount of revenue per year plus a one percent increase allowed by law. This has caused the Fire District’s levy rate to fall to $0.35 per $1,000. EMS call volumes have increased 42% in the same time period, and inflation is causing added financial pressure at 6.8 percent.
The Board of Fire Commissioners is considering asking voters to return the EMS levy to $0.50 per $1,000 during the August 2022 Primary Election. If approved, the 15-cent lid lift would cost an additional $52.50 per year ($4.38 per month) for the owner of a home with an assessed value of $350,000.
Funding from the levy would be used to hire three additional firefighter/paramedics and emergency medical technicians to respond to emergency calls. This would put another medical unit in service and aid in responding to overlapping calls, which are increasing.
“We have a plan in place to respond to higher call volumes,” said Chief Carlyle. “This includes making incremental changes along the way to reduce impacts to taxpayers overall. In other words, we ask for what is needed, and are specific about what we will deliver, in this case three more firefighters to staff another medical aid unit.”
Chief Carlyle says that the Fire District is exploring alternatives to property taxes to fund emergency services. Some fire districts have a fire benefit charge, which is based on a structure’s size and risk of fire. Single family homes are charged less than larger commercial developments because it costs less to defend them in a fire. The issue is whether there is enough commercial or multi-family development in the Fire District to make this pencil.
“We get the frustration. We all live here, and pay property taxes to fund public services. At this point, we’re looking for an alternative,” he said. “In the meantime, small lid lifts help us keep up with the rising cost to provide service.”