Whatcom County voters will find Proposition No. 1, or “The EMS Levy” on the ballot in November. This is an additional property tax of $0.295 per thousand dollars of assessed value. In other words, if you have property assessed at $600,000, you will pay approximately another $180 in taxes, each year for the next six years.
Altogether, the tax is anticipated to raise $55 million over those six years, providing additional funding for Whatcom’s fire districts.
However, there are a few things that the educated voter should be aware of before voting to approve this new tax.
Poor funding method
First, this is a non-permanent and somewhat strange method for funding our emergency medical services (EMS). For one, a temporary property tax levy is not the way to go about raising this money. Funding for EMS ought to be a permanent, steady flow of cash that is approved by county government from the general budget and won’t disappear after six years. This however, is a temporary solution that distracts from appropriate long-term planning. It also doesn’t replace our current EMS sales tax, property tax or user fees that are collected. All current taxes would continue, while adding a new one.
Lack of accountability
Second, Whatcom EMS is already fully funded by our budget, which begs the question: Why are they asking for this new tax in the first place? The answer, unfortunately, might not be very straightforward. Besides already having everything we need to effectively provide services to Whatcom residents, the levy would result in a huge $10 million surplus at the end of six years, with no projects dedicated to its use. In other words, this is far more money than necessary. The concern is that this could easily become a slush fund to be used by unions to demand pay raises and benefits at the expense of the taxpayers.
Additionally, this is a dedicated fund, which means that our governmental leaders cannot move the money to a different department in the event of an emergency or serious shift in priorities. If Whatcom County experienced flooding, an earthquake or another natural disaster, there would be no way to re-allocate that extra money to other areas (such as infrastructure or law enforcement) where we would inevitably need it.
Think of it this way: If you sat down one day, did your budgeting, decided what you wanted to spend, then went to your employer and said “this is the salary I want,” how would they react? Probably not well, but this is is exactly what our emergency medical services are doing to the taxpayers. This proposal is an expensive wish list, not a plan.