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Voters renew EMS levy

Tue., April 27, 2010, 8:12 p.m.

For the sixth time in a row, Spokane voters have agreed to pay a six-year property tax for the fire department’s medical response service.

Almost 67 percent of voters agreed to continue the city’s Emergency Medical Services tax. It needed 60 percent to pass. A few thousands votes will be counted this week, but that’s not enough to alter the levy’s fate.

Despite a history of passing the levy, Spokane leaders were nervous about the vote because of the shaky economy. In November, voters rejected the renewal of a separate property tax that pays for fire equipment.

“I’m just really relieved tonight,” said Mayor Mary Verner, who was at fire station at 17th Avenue and Ray Street when learning that the measure passed from the county election website. She credited supporters of the levy with getting “the word out that this was essential.”

The tax will cost the owner of a $100,000 property about $50 a year. The city first passed an EMS levy in 1980 and voters have approved it every six years since.

It raises about $8 million of the Spokane Fire Department’s $40 million annual budget and finances 54 of the department’s 326 positions and pays for supplies and training. Without it, fire leaders warned that they may have to lay off dozens of firefighters and close multiple stations.

Verner said that Tuesday’s vote should allow the city to preserve the number of fire stations and prevent a devastation of the force.

Still, the city has to determine how to fill an expected $10 million hole in its 2011 budget.

All the ballots received by the mail through Tuesday were counted in the tally. Elections Manager Mike McLaughlin estimated that there will be 3,000 more votes left to be counted, including about 2,000 picked up Tuesday evening at ballot drop-off sites.

Fire Lt. Jason Reser said failure of the levy would have hurt response time and the department’s effectiveness.

(Reser on Tuesday morning delivered a baby at a home in East Central after the baby’s father called 911 because he and the mom were too late to make it to a hospital.)

“Response times increase as our staffing decreases,” Reser said. “I’m appreciative to the citizens.”

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