Imagine your 80-year-old great grandmother awoke one night with chest pains and was worried it was a heart attack. Her 85-year-old husband, who suffers from a shattered vertebra in his neck, was unable to drive her to the emergency room. She called 911 and minutes later a volunteer EMT was at her door and began basic life-saving protocols. Minutes later an ambulance arrived with two paramedics who stabilized her and transported her safely to Peace Island Hospital for further care. What if when she dialed 911 there were no EMTs? No paramedics? No ambulance?
Unfortunately, this is a real possibility if 60 percent of island voters do not vote yes on the upcoming levy that would raise the amount of property tax funding San Juan Island Emergency Medical Services receives from 35 cents per $1,000 of assessed home value to 50 cents per $1,000.
Opponents of the levy say the raise is too high. They also fear that what some call bloated and irresponsible spending by EMS in previous years will continue to happen. They call for more budget cuts and to keep the tax rate at the current 35 cents. If islanders didn’t vote to raise the levy amount during the previous vote, why would they vote to pass it now?
The reason we need to pass the levy at 50 cents is that this time around, EMS will not exist as we now know it with 24-hour paramedic services, more than 40 volunteer, (they receive a small stipend) trained EMTs, top notch life-saving cardiac support and ambulance transportation capabilities — if we don’t. The Public Hospital District 1 Board of Commissioners, new EMS Chief Jerry Martin and a Budget Review Committee made up of private citizens have spent weeks working with their accountants on a 2017 budget that is realistic, no frills and can sustain the EMS we currently have. But it is only sustainable at the rate of 50 cents per $1,000 of the value of your home. While this is a big jump from the current 35 cents, when we do the math the total amount comes out to just under $200 per year for a $400,000 home.
As a community made up of many retirement-age or older residents and -families with children, having reliable emergency medical services is an essential and basic public need. Islanders have generously passed levies to fund our library, Island Rec and other wonderful public services. Now it is time to vote yes on the EMS levy and make what is very possibly a life-saving decision.