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EMS Levy Lid Lift

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Emergency Medical Service (EMS) Levy Lid Lift





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How We Are Funded

Tacoma residents and businesses pay taxes to the city for all services, including fire suppression and life safety programs. Emergency Medical Service (EMS) is funded separately by a voter-approved EMS levy capped at $0.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value.


Voters last approved an EMS levy at $0.50 per $1,000 in 2006 to fund this life saving program. Since then, the rate has dropped to $0.28 per $1,000.


Why did the levy rate drop?

Over time, levy rates may fall as property values rise. This caps a fire department to the same amount of revenue per year plus a state limit of a 1 percent increase. The amount of money we receive in an EMS levy does not increase by the same percentage as property value increases.

What is an EMS levy lid lift?

In 2006, we last asked the community for a “lid lift” to return the EMS levy to the amount previously approved by voters ($0.50/$1,000). Lid lifts help us keep up with higher call volumes and costs to provide service. EMS call volumes increase an average 3.1 percent per year - 14 percent in the last year alone. However, the number of Fire Department first response resources, such as fire engines and ladder trucks, has not increased in the last 30 years. The City Council unanimously approved the EMS Levy Lid Lift to appear on the August 1, 2023 ballot with Resolution 41180. This is the first levy lid lift we have asked for in 17 years.

EMS accounts for 80 percent of all emergency calls

We responded to over 49,000 calls in 2022 – of which 80 percent were for medical emergencies. We provide the highest level of emergency medical care called Advanced Life Support or ALS. Our EMS program is staffed with highly skilled firefighter/paramedics and firefighter/emergency medical technicians. ALS means that our emergency personnel can:

  • Start intravenous lines and administer lifesaving medication during your medical emergency
  • Provide advanced airway management to help you breathe
  • Detect early signs of heart attack and interpret EKG readings
  • Other lifesaving, pre-hospital care for trauma, stroke, heart attack, and critical infections

EMS levy lid lift will reduce response times and fund ambulance transport costs for residents

The EMS levy is not a new tax. The Tacoma City Council is considering asking voters to return the EMS levy to $0.50/$1,000 August 1, 2023. The renewal would allow us to:

  • Hire additional firefighters to add three EMS units to reduce response times and increase capacity citywide
  • Cover ambulance transport costs. Advanced Life Support (ALS) transport costs are already covered. Renewing the EMS levy lid lift would also fund Basic Life Support (BLS) transport costs at a savings of almost $1,000 per resident transport.

The average property owner (defined at $493,000) would pay an additional $9.04 per month in 2024 compared to 2023. The total annual cost for the same property is $246.50 per year for continued 24-hour emergency medical service. 


Why did you wait so long to request a lid lift?

Typically, the fire department returns to the voters every 5-6 years to request a lid lift to return it to its original collection rate of $0.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value. The last approved EMS levy lid lift in Tacoma was in 2006. Tacoma experienced significant financial hardship due to the housing market recession around 2012. We lost over 50 budgeted firefighter positions due to that crisis and didn't regain those positions until 2019. In 2020, the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic and financial decline delayed our request to lift the EMS levy lid. 


Is homelessness the reason for the increase in call volume?

Many factors contribute to the utilization of fire department emergency response resources. First, the department has not been able to add additional first-response resources in the last 30 years. Over that same period, the number of 911 calls received by the fire department has increased from approximately 17,000 annually to 50,000 annually. Second, the population in Tacoma has increased and continues to grow. More people typically result in more calls to 911. Additionally, the increasing lack of access to healthcare and mental health resources in the community results in some people using 911 as their primary care provider for those desperately needed services. Finally, those experiencing homeless also experience many of the same health conditions as their housed counterparts, but in extreme conditions and with fewer resources, resulting in a heavy reliance upon emergency services.


Fire Chief Tory Green welcomes your questions at (253) 591-5389 or email tfdlevyrenewal. 


TFD Paramedics