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Anacortes council discusses EMS contract

September 27, 2018

North County EMS of Stanwood (left) and the Central Valley Ambulance Authority transport patients to Skagit Valley Hospital.

ANACORTES — The Anacortes City Council discussed on Monday a draft of a contract to increase the ambulance services the city provides in Skagit County.

According to City Attorney Darcy Swetnam, the county commissioners are asking the county’s four cities to sign a six-year contract to provide most of the ambulance services in the county.

In exchange providing services in a larger area, Anacortes would receive about $1.3 million annually and $208,000 in start-up costs, she said.

“This is a bit of a step into the unknown,” Swetnam said, adding that the parties will have to learn as they go, but that everyone is committed to making it work.

County EMS Director Jeff Sargent said he hopes to have a final contract ready on Wednesday, in time for the Mount Vernon, Sedro-Woolley and Burlington city councils to consider the document at their meetings this week.

Sargent said to complete the contract the parties need clarification from the state on an insurance issue.

If the final contract is completed in time, the Anacortes council will vote on it at its meeting Monday.

With the money provided by the county, Anacortes will be able to meet a longtime goal of staffing the fire station at March Point 24 hours a day, said Councilman Ryan Walters.

At the meeting, Walters questioned how the new agreement would benefit Anacortes, considering it would have to devote an additional $300,000 from its general fund to hire four new paramedics to staff the station.

Steve Hoglund, city finance director, said the city will be able to cover the investment as long as the economy continues to grow.

Walters said he learned the county’s payment to the city will essentially cover the EMS portion of the salaries, and the city’s investment will pay for the fire portion of the salaries.

This lets the city meet its staffing goals more affordably than if it was on its own, he said.

Hoglund said the cost issue is part of a larger problem with city finances in Washington.

“In Washington state, city finances only work in a growing economy,” he said Tuesday.

Property tax, the only stable income source for cities and counties, can be raised by only 1 percent annually, despite the fact that staffing costs tend to increase about 4 percent annually, he said.

In the event of a shrinking economy, he said city officials know the city will need to scale back.

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