In the new year, if the households in outlying McCleary have a medical emergency, there may not be anyone to take their call.
About 900 households served by Grays Harbor Fire District 12 will be without emergency medical service starting Jan. 1, according to commissioner Jerry Banks. After failing at least its third EMS levy in recent years in the 2012 November election, Banks said the district simply isn’t able to continue raiding its fire protection budget to provide the service to its residents.
Banks expected to send District 5 the official notice Friday that its EMS contract is cancelled.
“That actually leaves the district … without EMS coverage for now. We’re a fire protection district, not an EMS district, so legally we don’t have to provide emergency medical services,” Banks said. “We only got involved with EMS to try to be a liaison and broker a deal for our residents. We have actually been paying District 5’s availability fee out of our fire budget.”
The availability fee has accounted for more than half District 12’s $73,000 fire budget in recent years, and Banks said the money is too urgently needed at this point for equipment maintenance. The levy was a last-ditch attempt to continue providing an important service at a cost of about $75 per household. It only earned about a 55 percent “Yes” vote, but the levy required a 60 percent majority to pass.
“I’m not quite sure why the residents keep saying no, honestly. It doesn’t amount to that much money to be able to pick up the phone and dial 911 and know someone is going to answer,” Banks said.
District 5 has its own financial difficulties. It failed its own levy lid lift in November, which led to a challenging budget that cuts fire prevention programs but narrowly keeps all the district’s staff.
“As of right now, we will not be responding to the District 12 area come Jan. 1 due to the fact we don’t have a contract for service for that area,” District 5 Chief Dan Prater said.
Prater added that aside from the financial burden to the district and the issues it would cause with other EMS contracts, legally District 5 can’t provide the service for free because it would be a gift of public funds. In East County, about 87 percent of all emergency calls are for emergency medical service, according to Prater.
“We’re really concerned because we know the lives that are at risk. We worry because … it’s going to take a tragedy, I think, unfortunately, to get peoples’ attention to how important EMS is,” Prater said. “It’s a tough decision. The citizens spoke and didn’t support the funding, and the commissioners had to make a decision.”
Banks said if the district hears from enough residents during 2013, it would consider running another levy, and Prater said District 5 would be open to a mid-year change if it’s successful. But a levy has a cost involved — financial for the district, and emotional for the people who work on the campaign.
“It’s very disheartening. It’s very, very disheartening. I believe the residents were so used … to not having to pay for this when the hospital had the EMS service,” Banks said. When the Mark Reed Hospital District provided EMS service to the area, the funding was added to that district’s taxes, he added.
Banks isn’t sure what it would take to change residents’ minds.
“I don’t know what it would be to change their minds because we really don’t fully understand why they don’t want it,” he said.
District 12 is looking for feedback from residents on its EMS levy, particularly why they voted againts it. Comments can be mailed to Grays Harbor Fire District 12 at P.O. Box 3338, McCleary WA 98557, or emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.