Friday, May 23, 2008

Future of ambulance service up to voters

Two-thirds approval needed to pass levy rate increase


By JASON KAUFFMAN
Express Staff Writer

In a vote set for Tuesday, May 27, Blaine County voters will consider whether to approve an increase to the county ambulance district's property tax levy rate. In March, the three-member Blaine County Commission voted unanimously to set the date after hearing local emergency services officials warn of a continuing funding shortfall they say threatens the longterm viability of local ambulance services.

If approved by two-thirds of the voters, the override would raise an additional $350,000 per year for the district and increase property taxes by $3 per $100,000 of assessed value. The increase in the district's budget from property-tax revenues would take effect next fiscal year, beginning Oct. 1.

Approval would provide the district with funds for ongoing operations and replacement of ambulances.

If the override is passed, property owners in the county would see a range of tax increases based on property assessments. The average home value in 2007 for Ketchum was just over $900,000, while the average for Carey was about $160,000. Using these figures as a basis, property taxes in Carey would increase by an average of about $5 per year under the proposed tax hike. In Ketchum, the average homeowner would see an increase of about $27.

For now, the ambulance district is operating on a nearly $500,000 annual budget shortfall, officials say. In the district's 22-year history, the county has never asked voters to approve a levy override.

A 'no' vote on the levy increase may necessitate scaling back paramedic-level service in the county, some officials have said. Blaine County first received paramedic-level service in 2001.

May 27 elections

· Polls will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

· To find out where your polling place is, call the Blaine County Elections Department at (208) 788-5510.

· The Idaho primary elections are "open," meaning anyone can participate in the party elections and voters can "cross over" to vote on the ballot of a party they do not belong to.

· Only Hailey residents will vote in the city ballot measure for the proposed marijuana initiatives.

· For more information on the proposed ambulance levy rate increase, go to www.blainecountysafer.com.

· For local election results Tuesday night, visit www.mtexpress.com.




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