GUEST OPINION | We are now facing our own health care crisis

There has been considerable discussion at the national level about health care over the past two years. The President has defined his administration by it; Republicans and Democrats have battled over it. They are all looking at the long-term issue of health care and how it affects the nation's citizens.

As the Chief of the Arlington Fire Department, I have the responsibility to the citizens of Arlington and the surrounding communities to inform you that we are facing our own serious health care crisis. In contrast, however, our crisis is immediate and can have a devastating affect on anyone who lives here, visits here or travels through here.

The Arlington Fire Department currently provides Advanced Life Support to the communities of Arlington, Arlington Rural, Silvana, Oso and Darrington. Advanced Life Support means we bring the emergency room to you, whether you're having a heart attack, have sustained major injuries, are in respiratory arrest or have another medical emergency.

We provide this service from our three fire stations staffed with Paramedics and Emergency Medical Technicians, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Our personnel respond to approximately 3,500 calls for service each year with 85 percent of them being medically related.

The majority of the funding for these life-saving services is generated through an EMS levy voted on by the communities which pay for the personnel, equipment, training and ambulances. The current levy is scheduled to expire at the end of this year. Historically we have had to go back to voters every 5 or 6 years for passage. This process makes it difficult to plan since there is no guarantee that the department will have the required funding going into the next levy renewal period. In addition, each time a required vote is brought forward there is an added financial burden to the taxpayers, as they have to pay for the election costs which can exceed $25,000.

This past November, the city of Arlington and local fire districts attempted to resolve these issues by going to the voters with a permanent EMS levy. To accomplish this, it required a super majority of 60 percent. The EMS levy passed in a number of local fire districts, but unfortunately failed to get the 60 percent required in Arlington and Arlington Rural by the narrowest of margins. After a critical analysis of the campaign, it was determined that we failed to provide all of the facts in a clear and concise manner which led to confusion, misunderstanding and ultimately led to defeat. It is my goal in this letter to provide the facts so that you, the voters, will be able to make a well-informed decision and understand what is at stake.

Fact 1

This is not a new tax. We are only asking you to make the EMS Levy permanent and at the same rate it was in 2004, which is $0.50 per $1,000 assessed value of the home. This translates into a home-owner paying $125 a year for a home valued at $250,000. The current rate is $0.46 per $1,000 assessed value or $115 a year for the same home. The difference for that homeowner is $10 a year or $.83 a month. All this to ensure you are provided with the very best emergency care when you need it most.

Fact 2

If this levy fails, after Dec. 31, 2011, the Arlington Fire Department will no longer provide Advanced Life Support Services to our community or the communities we currently serve. There is not a county or state agency that will come into our area and provide this service for you. We will be required to rely on the fire budget from the city's general fund, which at best will allow us to provide the very limited Basic Life Support (BLS) services. We will be forced to reduce our service level, reduce our resources and  absolutely will increase our response times. Let me be clear, this will have an immediate, and in some cases fatal, impact on those individuals who require serious emergency medical care.

I strongly recommend the voters of Arlington and Arlington Rural support the upcoming vote on the EMS Levy. If you are not a registered voter, I encourage you to become one, as this election impacts everyone. You may register online by March 18, through the Snohomish County website. On April 8, ballots will be mailed out to the registered voters in these communities asking for direction on Proposition 1. Please make sure to vote "Yes" and return your ballot by mail no later than April 26, 2011.

For further information or to discuss Proposition 1, please contact me at 360-403-3601.

Bruce Stedman

Arlington Fire Chief



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