Ambulance service, new grade school on the ballot


MONTESANO — Voters in the Satsop, Ocosta and McCleary areas are being asked to decide on property tax measures to benefit either schools or ambulances. If voters say “no,” it could mean questionable ambulance service in rural McCleary, plus tough choices for the schools.

Ballots are being mailed today and should hit mail boxes either Friday or Saturday, County Auditor Vern Spatz says.

Ballots need to be post marked or dropped off by Tuesday, April 23. Unlike most elections, however, the only drop off sites will be either inside the Auditor’s Office in Montesano or a 24-hour drive-up box at the curb, Spatz said.

In all, the county is mailing out 899 ballots to voters in Fire District 12, which consists of rural McCleary; 320 to voters in the Satsop School District and 2,627 to voters in the Ocosta School District on the South Beach. Military and overseas voters were mailed ballots earlier this month, according to Spatz.

The Satsop School District wants to replace an expiring property tax levy to support educational programs, student services, textbooks, maintenance, repair and operations. The levy is designed to raise $80,000 each year for 2014 and 2015. That works out to $2.02 per $1,000 in assessed value. That means a $100,000 home would pay $202 a year.

The Ocosta School District is seeking a bond valued a $13.8 million to be paid back over the next 20 years. The district is hoping to raise enough money to build a new building for its elementary school.

The proposition would authorize the district to renovate Ocosta Elementary School, demolish the old “round” elementary building and construct a new one for not just the kids but to act as a tsunami refuge for students, staff and the community. Funds would also be used to modernize the remaining parts of the elementary school, improve parking and the way buses enter the facility. More information is online at http://www.ocosta.k12.wa.us/pages/Ocosta_School_District__172/Elementary....

FIRE DISTRICT 12

Fire District 12 is trying one more time to get the funds necessary to provide ambulance service for the region. Without it, there remains a big question as to what would happen if someone calls 911 in a medical emergency and unclear answers as to who would actually respond.

District 12 and the cities of Elma and McCleary have contracted for several years with Grays Harbor Fire District 5 for EMS service. To try to fund the service in District 12, its commissioners have run four previous — but unsuccessful — levies. If the current levy fails, it will be the last time the district will ask its voters to approve one, say its commissioners, Jerry Banks, Peter McMillin and Andrew Pitman.

Last year, 110 ambulance calls originated in District 12, with 37 of those resulting in patients being transported to hospitals, according to District 5 records.

But Assistant Chief Brad Peckham of that district said last week it’s his understanding that if the voters again say “no,” when medical emergencies occur in District 12 after its contract ends April 30, District 5 personnel “would not even be dispatched or otherwise made aware that there was a call for service.”

Peckham also doubts the state Department of Health’s trauma supervisor, Mike Lopez, was accurate when he said in January that District 5 would be “out of compliance” if it didn’t continue answering trauma calls in District 12 for up to 120 days in the event District 12 were to “opt out” of its contract.

Lopez said that was to provide time to locate “another agency to serve” District 12. But Peckham wonders how that could be if District 12 doesn’t have the means to pay another provider. It isn’t that District 5 would be “firing” District 12, Peckham said, but that District 12 would be stopping the service itself for lack of funding.

Unlike cities, fire districts are restricted by law from charging a utility fee for ambulance service. City of McCleary residents, for example, pay $10.40 for it on their monthly utility bills. But to make emergency medical services available in their areas, which they are not mandated to do, fire districts must depend on funding from EMS levies.

District 12 has been paying for ambulance service out of its fire budget.

But that can’t continue, the commissioners say. They’ve already drained far more from that source than they’re comfortable with. The district contracts with the City of McCleary for fire personnel, and it has a seriously aging fire fleet along with deteriorating buildings that desperately need upgrading, and plunging budget reserves.

For the six-year, 50 cents-per-$1,000 EMS levy to pass, at least 40 percent of the number of District 12 residents who voted in the November election, 669, must cast ballots April 23. That’s 268. And at least 60 percent of those must be “yes” votes.

If successful, it will cost the owner of a $200,000 home $100 per year, nearly $25 less annually than their neighbors inside McCleary city limits.