Gig Harbor voters will decide whether to support the local fire department in maintaining its levels of emergency service in the upcoming election.
At its Feb. 27 meeting, Gig Harbor Fire Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to put an Emergency Medical Services levy on the April 17 ballot.
The measure will raise the levy rate to 50 cents per $1,000 assessed value, a 15-cent increase from the existing levy of 35 cents per $1,000.
Gig Harbor Fire Chief John Burgess said the purpose of the levy is to restore funding that the department has lost due to the slow economy.
“The recession has hit the housing market hard and that’s where the majority of the funding comes from—property taxes,” he said. “It’s impacted us to where we are now using reserve funds to continue to fund the operations of the fire department.”
Since 2010, funding for basic operations and maintenance has dropped by $2.4 million, according to Burgess. He said the levy would restore about half of the loss, or $1.1 million.
The EMS levy would cover the costs for Basic and Advanced Life Support, Medic One units, personnel—including paramedics, training, equipment, facilities and 911 emergency response. The measure also covers a patient’s emergency service out-of-pocket costs for local residents who are not reimbursed by their insurance.
, known as Gig Harbor Fire & Medic One, is currently the only fire department in the county with a levy of less than 50 cents per $1,000.
“There isn’t another fire department in Pierce County—city or district—that provides paramedic service that doesn’t have 50 cents per $1,000.”
The department currently serves more than 45,000 residents across 55 square miles, including Fox and Raft islands. In 2011, the department responded to 3,442 EMS and rescue calls. Burgess said 75 percent of its 911 calls are EMS-related. Its average response times are 5 minutes within the city of Gig Harbor and 7 minutes outside city limits, which meet or exceed more than 90 percent of the national standards.
The fire department’s last levy was back in 2008 to renew its 35-cent levy, which passed with 63 percent support. In contrast, this is a permanent property tax levy. By making it permanent, Burgess said it would save taxpayers’ dollars. Every time the fire department runs a levy election, it can run anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000 in costs.
“We have provided emergency medical services to this community since the late '70s, and in the late '80s we’ve provided paramedic service,” he said. “This levy will provide long-term stable funding and allow us to continue to provide the emergency medical services that we believe this community has become accustomed to.”
Gig Harbor Fire & Medic One currently has 85 firefighters, 15 of whom serve as paramedics. Among the nine fire stations, five are staffed with full-time personnel, and four have volunteer staff. The department houses nine fire engines at each station, but it shares three paramedic units and three tenders.
Gig Harbor Fire will need a "super majority" of 60 percent to adopt the levy.
Watch the video with Chief Burgess as he breaks down the levy.
For more information on the levy, visit gigharborfire.org.
For more information on the election, visit the Pierce County Auditors Office.
Upcoming EMS Levy presentations by Chief John Burgess:
- Merrill Gardens: Friday, March 23, at 10 a.m.
- Gig Harbor City Council Meeting: Monday, March 26, at 5:30 p.m.
- Gig Harbor Mid-Day Rotary: Tuesday, March 27, at 12 p.m.
- Harbor Place at Cottesmore: Thursday, March 29, at 2 p.m.
The April 17 election will be mail-in only. Voters can also use deposit boxes, which will close at 8 p.m. They are available from March 19 to April 17.
Purdy Fire Station
5210 144th St NW
4811 Pt. Fosdick Dr NW
(Opens Friday, March 23)Gig Harbor Fire Station
6711 Kimball Dr.
The will also be set up as one of the voting centers for voter registration, accessible voting equipment and assistance from staff. Hours: April 16 and 17, 7 a.m. - 8 p.m