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January 19, 1998


EMS tax would truly save lives

  As a citizen of Woodinville for the past 20 years and as a local Fire Chief (Shoreline), I want to remind all the citizens of King County of the upcoming ballot issue to fund Medic One. Many people do not realize that all funding for paramedic level service, and a portion of the funding for basic life support service, comes from a countywide levy and not directly from your local fire departments. This levy has been in place since the late 1970's and provides the following emergency medical services countywide:
   *Advanced life support (paramedic) service on a regional basis. This is what is known as Medic One. Provided through contracts with King County by Shoreline, Seattle, Bellevue, Evergreen Hospital, and by King County directly. Medic One is fully funded by this levy.
   *Basic life support (emergency medical technicians) on a regional basis. This service is provided by cross-trained firefighters in all fire departments in King County and is partially funded by the levy.
   *Regional emergency medical training, data collection, and quality control provided by King County Emergency Medical Services Division and the City of Seattle.
   *Equal service throughout King County. No matter where your travels take you, you will receive the same high level of emergency medical care.
   The Seattle-King County Medic One system is the best in the world. It is also one of the least expensive in the region. Throughout Washington State, levy rates to support emergency medical services range from 25 cents to 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. The proposed rate for this three-year funding period is 29 cents (which replaces a 25 cent levy in place for the past six years).
   As a fire chief, the one question I have been asked most is "What happens if the levy measure is defeated?" Funding, already lost for 1998, would also be lost for 1999 and beyond. With the loss of this issue on the November 1997 ballot (it failed to receive the 60% super majority required), all jurisdictions, including cities, fire departments and King County, have absorbed the funding loss for 1998 using combinations of reserve funds, capital purchase delays, and program deferrals. These have all been one-time stopgap measures. An additional loss of funding for 1999 would mean both personnel and service level cuts.
   For my department the loss would represent 15-20 firefighters and a dramatic reduction in our ability to provide both emergency medical and fire protection services. This level of impact would be similar region wide. This is not the place to save taxes; it is a tax that truly saves lives. Please remember to vote on Feb. 3, 1998.
   J.B. Smith,