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Arlington considers utility fee to provide funding for EMS

The Ambulance Utility Fee would help make the city's EMS more sustainable, provide relief to the city's general fund

 

Christopher Andersson

Arlington paramedic/firefighter Paul Hunsaker looks through some of the equipment on the Arlington Fire Department's EMS aid car.

The Arlington City Council is considering a $15 per month Ambulance Utility Fee that would provide relief to the city's general fund which they would then use to improve public safety.

A public hearing about the fee is scheduled for July 2 at the Arlington City Council Chambers at 7 p.m.

The fee would support Arlington's Emergency Medical Services (a.k.a. EMS).

Currently the city's EMS services cost about $4.6 million each year, while the revenues brought in meant for those services provide only around $3.1 million each year.

That leaves about $1.4 to $1.5 million that the city is subsidizing from their general fund, said Kristin Banfield, communications manager for the city of Arlington.

"The EMS service is supposed to be a self-sustaining service," she said, but the city is using its general fund dollars to maintain it.

With the Ambulance Utility Fee the city would have more space in their general fund for other services, which they currently plan to use for public safety improvements, including more police officers.

"This utility fee doesn't get to be spent anywhere in the city's budget except for EMS services," said Banfield.

"I know there's a little bit of confusion because the council is taking two separate actions," she said.

The potential Ambulance Utility Fee would be added to residents' and business owners' monthly utility bill.

The proposal for this fee comes after four years of looking at how best to make Arlington's emergency services more sustainable, said Banfield.

"Coming out of the recession we were taking a look at all of our functions to make sure what we were providing was provided at the level of service that the community expected," said Banfield.

"Part of that analysis was looking at the revenue streams, and are those funds fully supporting their departments," said Banfield.

For Arlington's EMS services, city officials considered a number of different options.

"They analyzed four to six different funding mechanisms, including the recent [Regional Fire Authority] talks with Marysville that Marysville terminated," said Banfield.

Prior to those talks the city considered Regional Fire Authorities with other nearby fire districts, however none were interested, said Banfield.

They also looked at other taxes or levy lid lifts, but ultimately ended with the Ambulance Utility Fee as the best approach, said Banfield.

"They took a look at long-term, including looking at operations five years at and financing 10 years out, to make sure that the resources we have available to us are going to cover us for a while," said Banfield.

The Ambulance Utility Fee would make EMS services almost fully self-sustaining, said Banfield.

"We will still have to do some small relief from the general fund. It doesn't cover everything, but it comes the closest," she said. 

If the Ambulance Utility Fee passes the primary use of the extra general fund dollars would be public safety, said Banfield.

"The City Council sees a definitive demand in public safety, specifically in police, so that is the initial investment that we will be making," she said.

The city could begin the search for two new police officers immediately once the Ambulance Utility Fee is in place, said Banfield.

"All of this funding provides all the vehicles and equipment for this staff as well," she said.

In 2019 a domestic violence coordinator could be hired. Coordinators help domestic violence victims navigate the court system and connect them with local resources.

"We're probably one of the few cities in the county, if not the state, without a coordinator that focuses on domestic violence cases," said Banfield.

"They dramatically reduce the number of re-occurring cases involving domestic violence victims and their offenders. So it really provides a huge benefit for a part-time contract," she said.

In 2020 the department could hire another additional police officer and in 2021 the department could hire a second police support officer.

"We have one police support officer right now and they handle case reports for cold cases, animal control complaints, parking violations, and they can even do some evidence collection if there's a crime scene where we need additional assistance," said Banfield.

The city would also be able to continue funding their embedded social worker in 2021 if their grant is not renewed.

"We're only a couple of months in, but we're already seeing fruition from that," said Banfield.

The city's current emergency services would be maintained with a Ambulance Utility Fee, but they also plan to use funds to make a few improvements to the department as well.

In 2021 they would plan to add two firefighter/EMTs and one firefighter/paramedic.

The city currently has one EMS aid car, but it could need two sometime in the near future, which would be staffed by those new hires.

"Our aid car is one of the busiest units we have, but it's not at the point where we need a second unit quite yet," said Banfield.

They would also contract out 24-hour command and control and fire marshal services for the Arlington Fire Department.

Currently, when the fire chief is unavailable those duties fall to a captain "which takes them out of the service provision of going out and fighting the fires," said Banfield.

Having 24-hour command and control would provide that support so Arlington's fire captains can focus on their other duties.

Fire Marshal services, which include reviewing construction plans to make sure buildings are safe, are currently provided by the city's fire chief.

Having those services provided elsewhere frees up the fire chief for their other duties, said Banfield.

Residents and business owners are invited to the public hearing over the fee on July 2.

The Ambulance Utility Fee requires only a vote of the Arlington City Council to pass. They may decide to vote after the public hearing or they might not.

"They can choose to vote, there is no requirement that they have to wait, or they may choose, after hearing the public, to take some time before making a final decision," said Banfield.

Those wanting to submit written comments in advance of the hearing can send them to kbanfield@arlingtonwa.gov.

Those with more questions can contact city administrator Paul Ellis or Kristin Banfield at 360-403-3441.

 

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