Agreement positions Vashon fire department to sustain EMS funding

An impasse over the details of a regionwide Emergency Medical Services levy has ended, settling worries that the levy, which provides half of Vashon Island Fire & Rescue’s budget each year, wouldn’t go forward.

King County’s six-year EMS levy, which funds Vashon’s Medic One service, is up for renewal and slated to come before county voters later this year. However, in drafting the new levy, officials in Kirkland, one of nine cities in the county that had to agree to the levy before it could go on the ballot, voiced concerns about their stake in the EMS system. Earlier this year, the city and local firefighter unions withheld their support of the levy, saying, among other concerns, that Kirkland wanted the option to have its own Medic One unit. It currently relies on King County and Redmond paramedic units for its emergency services.

After long negotiations, King County’s Regional Policy Committee removed the restriction and stipulated in the levy that there would be an evaluation of whether Kirkland could become a Medic One provider. On Tuesday, April 16, the Kirkland City Council unanimously voted in favor of the levy.

Rex Stratton, a Vashon fire commissioner who has also spent months participating in the county’s EMS advisory task force and has paid close attention to Kirkland’s position, said he was relieved to see officials there agree to the plan.

“They ultimately got some language they liked, got some negotiating room, and that was enough,” he said.

If Kirkland hadn’t approved the levy, he said, it wouldn’t have gone on the ballot and VIFR would have been left with a huge hole in its budget. Without the EMS funding, the department would likely seek to enact a new local levy to sustain emergency services on the island, and even that may not provide enough to sustain current response levels for fires, medical emergencies and transports to off-island hospitals.

“If the King County EMS fails, Vashon is in a world of hurt,” Stratton said.

Now that the levy is definitely on the ballot, the county can now focus on seeing that voters approve it, Stratton said. There’s been wide support for the levy in the past, he noted. Six years ago, it passed with about 80 percent approval. But the county will still work to promote it — a dozen years ago little effort was made and the measure, which requires a super-majority of 60 percent, failed.

“I think everyone said ‘Oh, yes, it will pass.’ Nobody put energy into it. I know that will not be the case this time.”


— Natalie Johnson

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