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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Spokane

Voters will have say on Spokane EMS tax

City Council agrees to put renewal on ballot

Spokane voters next month will be asked if they want to maintain the city’s tax for emergency medical services.

The Spokane City Council voted unanimously on Monday to place the six-year EMS tax on the April 27 ballot.

It will need 60 percent support to pass, a level it has reached every six years since voters first approved the tax in 1980.

“The renewal of the EMS levy will allow us to continue to deliver those services that everybody relies on, and we absolutely have no other source of funds for that purpose,” Spokane Mayor Mary Verner said.

The tax, which will expire at the end of the year if voters reject it, would raise about $8 million in 2011, said Spokane Fire Chief Bobby Williams. The tax finances 54 of the department’s 326 positions and pays for supplies and training, he said.

Williams said because contracts require recently hired firefighters, who earn less than veteran employees, to be laid off first, a failure of the EMS levy would likely result in up to 90 lost positions and the closure of fire stations.

“It if failed, it would be devastating to this community,” Williams said.

Two former City Council candidates testified on the issue at Monday’s hearing.

Karen Kearney, who was defeated in the November election by Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin, said the tax is essential.

“This issue is one that is about life-saving and about promoting our region as a good place to live,” Kearney said.

George McGrath, who was defeated in a 2007 council primary election, suggested that the council force firefighters to collect signatures to place the tax on the ballot.

“I think that the citizens of Spokane have been taxed more than sufficiently,” McGrath said.

Last year, Spokane voters narrowly rejected a separate 10-year, $33 million fire bond to pay for firefighting equipment. It was the first time voters defeated a city fire bond since it began to depend on voter-approved property taxes to cover most fire expenses beyond personnel in 1989.

City leaders are considering making a second attempt for a fire bond later this year.

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