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Voters on Lopez, Orcas, San Juan islands renew M&O, EMS levies

At stake in the Feb. 9 special election: Levies supporting San Juan Island Emergency Medical Services, or EMS; and the San Juan Island School District
At stake in the Feb. 9 special election: Levies supporting San Juan Island Emergency Medical Services, or EMS; and the San Juan Island School District's maintenance and operations budget.
— image credit: Jane K. Fox

San Juan County voters overwhelmingly renewed property tax levies supporting schools and emergency medical services Tuesday.

With results posted at 8:24 p.m., San Juan Island School District's maintenance and operations levy renewal was approved 1,869 votes to 841, or 68.97 percent to 31.03 percent.

The San Juan Island EMS levy renewal was approved 2,057 votes to 658, or 75.76 percent to 24.24 percent.

Similar measures were overwhelmingly approved on Lopez and Orcas islands.

Lopez Island voters approved a levy for school maintenance and operations 562 votes to 182, or 75.54 percent to 24.46 percent.

Orcas Island voters approved a levy for school maintenance and operations 1,266 votes to 603, or 67.74 percent to 32.26 percent. However, The Islands' Sounder reported that a general obligation bond for school facilities improvements was failing to receive the 60 percent vote required for approval. As of 8:24 p.m., the measure had received 1,026 votes to 834, or 55.16 percent to 44.84 percent.

School district maintenance and operations, or M&O, levies help fund essential educational needs: Reasonable class sizes and comprehensive student schedules; staffing for libraries, music and visual arts; program options such as Advanced Placement, vocational and community-based courses; online classes; and transportation.

Some seniors and disabled residents may be exempted from the property tax if they obtain certification from the county assessor's office.

The EMS levy on San Juan Island's ballot supports emergency medical services on the island, provided 24/7 by San Juan EMS.

A total of 11,154 ballots have been mailed to voters countywide. As of Tuesday afternoon, 5,339 ballots had been returned countywide.

Two levies were on the ballot on San Juan Island.

— San Juan County Hospital District No. 1: Proposition No. 1, Emergency Medical Services Levy.

The measure asked voters to extend the EMS levy for six years. The levy is 35 cents per $1,000 of assessed property valuation, or $105 a year for a home worth $300,000.

— San Juan Island School District No. 149: Proposition No. 1, School Support Replacement Levy.

The measure asked voters to extend the school district’s maintenance and operations levy for four years. The levy is 58 cents per $1,000 of assessed property valuation, or $174 a year for a home worth $300,000.

The maintenance and operations, or M&O, levy supplies almost 20 percent of the school district budget. The state provides each school district with money for basic education, but those funds are not enough to fully fund all district programs.

Without this funding, the school district would have to make almost $2 million in cuts. Superintendent Walt Wegener said that to lose that amount of funding from the budget would be “too devastating to get a good grip on.”

School district M&O levy supporters spread the word during the campaign that the levy is an existing levy. A bond levy approved in 1997 expired in December, lowering property tax bills 60 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation. That bond levy, which paid for remodeling of Friday Harbor Middle and High schools, is not being renewed.

The school district M&O levy requires simple majority. The EMS levy requires 60 percent approval.

As voters cast their ballots, EMS Chief Jim Cole expressed hope that people read the information and understand that the levy is not for the existing Inter Island Medical Center or the proposed Peace Island Medical Center, but for emergency medical services provided by his agency.

“San Juan Island EMS is under the San Juan County Hospital District No. 1, which is the junior taxing district that operates both San Juan Island EMS and the Inter Island Medical Center under two separate levies,” supporters wrote in a letter. “Both agencies report to the hospital district board but are operationally and fiscally separate."

Cole said that if the levy was not approved, there was one more chance to put it on the ballot in November. If it failed then as well, emergency services would stop on the island, effective in 2011.

"We are very hopeful it will go through," he said. "We are hoping it all works."

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