Another try at ambulance levy for McCleary area

Outlying areas around McCleary will still have ambulance service, at least through April, following a vote last week by Grays Harbor Fire District 12 commissioners. That’s a temporary solution to the ambulance question, but the district will go back to voters at a special election in April and ask for approval of a property tax levy for a longer term fix.

Commissioner Jerry Banks confirmed the district approved the extension, which will cost the district about $8,100 in “availability” fees to Fire District 5, which will provide the ambulance service.

“It’s going to have to come out of our budget from our fire suppression side,” Banks said, which is where EMS funding has come for years.

After the EMS levy failed in the November election last year, District 12 announced it could no longer afford to keep pulling money away from its fire service and said ambulance service would be canceled for the area, but that hasn’t yet been tested. Banks said Monday the cost diverted in fees would likely delay a substation renovation.

Banks had said the district was reluctant to invest the time and money in another levy after failing it three times.

“The community outcry is what changed our minds, how many people did get behind it,” he said.

People have spoken up on why they didn’t vote for the levy before, he added, and it seems that most of those reasons were based on misinformation or a misunderstanding of what the levy paid for. Now, a citizen committee has taken charge of the campaign to pass the April levy.

“We must be successful or come May 1 the areas surrounding McCleary will be without ambulance service. I am volunteering on this campaign because I do not want to see any of my friends and neighbors suffer or die because they cannot get help,” Jessica Bradley, a District 12 resident, wrote in an email to The Daily World.

Fire District 5 has provided the EMS coverage for the area. Chief Dan Prater said the district hasn’t received official notification of the extension, but will be happy to continue providing the service.

“I think it’s great. Honestly, I think it’s the right direction to go. We need citizen support. In the days of old, you never heard of the fire department, or any department with public safety services, ever failing anything,” Prater said. “We want to help.”

The state Department of Health has said District 5 would be obligated to continue providing service for at least 30 to 120 days while the department tried to find another service provider. Prater has said the district would bill for those services if required because of other laws governing the use of public funds, but is still seeking an opinion from the state Auditor in case the levy fails in April.

“This is new ground,” Prater said. The Department of Health has “never, ever had an area say we don’t want them to provide service to us.”

The threshold will be lower for the special vote than it was for the general election: This time, the district needs 40 percent of the voters who turned out for the general election to vote. Of that smaller pool, 60 percent need to vote yes. In November, the levy failed by fewer than 30 votes.

“I think we have a fairly good chance of passing this levy. I’m hopeful,” Banks said.

The citizen’s group will meet Thursday, Jan. 24, at 6:30 p.m. at the McCleary Community Center, 726 W Simpson Ave.