October 18, 2012 | Vol. 116 -- No. 26

Another tight budget year for ML

EMS levy will appear on November ballot

The Medical Lake City Council looked to next year’s budget in its 2013 budget workshop, although much remains the same from this year.

The city looked at its fire and emergency medical services department, specifically at three key items: retaining the points system pay for volunteer firefighters, the Emergency Medical Services levy and potential fees for the Department of Social and Health Services.

Facing renewal this year is the city’s 1 percent EMS levy. Mayor John Higgins said homeowners wouldn’t see a rate increase, as the expiring levy would be renewed at the same level.

There was some concern, however, that the levy may not pass when it comes up in the Nov. 6 election. The City Council would need to make some decisions regarding how the city would make up $96,000 in funds.

“That’s a very real discussion you need to have,” City Administrator Doug Ross said.

Mayor John Higgins said a 1 percent property tax increase, amounting to around $96,000, would come to the City Council for a decision within the next couple of meetings.

“It’s not a lot of money, but it’s money we need,” Higgins said.

Fire Department volunteers receive some minimal compensation for hours served in the force. The program was instituted to attract more volunteers into the system and reward quick responses, lessening the number of calls answered by county fire departments.

Councilman Jeff King said the program appeared to be working well, citing a report from the Oct. 2 City Council meeting referencing no missed calls in two months. In addition, large numbers of people are signing up to become volunteers.

“There is no shortage of people trying to get on the department,” Ross said.

Also brought to the table were utility rates, specifically what the future holds in terms of garbage collection when the city’s contract with the Spokane Regional Solid Waste System expires in 2014. Savings from changing plans could be substantial when the time comes for a decision.

“We do anticipate that it will be less expensive to haul and tip our garbage elsewhere than go to the Waste to Energy Plant. We’re almost sure of it,” Ross said.

Ross said other suggestions for the city to take up its own garbage services, like Cheney, would be unsuccessful. He pointed to the lack of initial capital to begin such a service, and the city’s need to hire additional employees in an already tight budget, if the suggestion were to hypothetically happen.

One item brought forward for discussion was charging the state facilities, such as Lakeland Village, Eastern State Hospital and others, for police, fire and other emergency services. Ross pointed to Western State Hospital in Lakewood, which has a specific line item in the state budget to provide the city with funds for rendered emergency services.

Council members were open to the idea, but hesitant to apply a large dollar figure to it, given budget cuts over the past several years that threatened the facilities.

The discussion will remain ongoing with legislators and representatives from the state facilities.

Also briefly mentioned was the city’s skate park. Closed in the latter part of the summer, discussions are moving forward regarding the sale of ramps and other equipment. Ross said he had spoken, and will continue to speak, with local jurisdictions regarding sale options.

The next City Council meeting takes place Tuesday, Nov. 6 at 6:30 p.m. in the council chambers.

James Eik can be reached at james@cheneyfreepress.com.

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