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Fate of ambulance service uncertain

Patrick McCartney

Tahoe Basin residents of El Dorado County will hold the fate of emergency ambulance service in their own hands this year, part of the fallout from Proposition 218 that California voters approved last fall.

On the South Shore, property owners will be asked by August to mail in votes to approve the $24.60 that the county already assesses them each year to pay Lake Tahoe Ambulance Company for emergency medical services.

On June 3, voters on the West Shore will vote on whether to quadruple their current tax assessment of $6.30 a year to continue the ambulance service provided by the North Tahoe Fire Protection District. Two thirds of the voters from Rubicon Point to Tahoma must approve the special tax assessment of $24.60 or risk losing emergency medical service.

Without the support of residents, El Dorado County will be unable to continue providing ambulance service, said El Dorado County Supervisor John Upton.

“It’s truly a life-and-death service,” Upton said. “But I have no means of assuring ambulance service in the area other than through the benefit-assessment process or a special tax assessment. I’m hopeful that people believe dialing 911 and having an ambulance come to their door is worth $24.60 a year.”

Proposition 218 requires voters to approve local government taxes, including the fees and assessments charged by special districts that provide such services as fire protection, libraries, snow removal and ambulance services.

Districts have the option of asking voters to approve the tax by a two-thirds margin, or seeking the approval of property owners for services that an engineering study determines are beneficial to them.

Proposition 218 dramatically changed the way property owners can oppose an assessment. Before, a majority of the affected property owners were required to mail in a vote of opposition to derail a benefit assessment.

Under Proposition 218, just the ballots that are returned are considered. And, rather than requiring a majority vote to block an assessment, Proposition 218 calls for a majority of the area’s property value to determine the outcome, a provision that gives more weight to the owners of more valuable property.

With the rule change, South Shore residents will have to actively support the assessment to assure the continuation of ambulance services, Upton said.

“This is not the time to toss the envelope away,” he said. “If you believe in ambulance service, you have to open the envelope, fill it out and mail it in.”

Residents of West Shore communities face a different challenge. Because of weather-related closures of State Route 89 at Emerald Bay, the El Dorado County communities need to receive ambulance service from the North Tahoe Fire Protection District.

Because the annual tax assessment had not been reviewed for a decade, the fire district and El Dorado County agreed on a new assessment of $24.60, which would bring the charges into line with other county residents in the basin.

Ed Miller, president of the Meeks Bay Fire Protection District’s board of directors, said he is confident that residents will recognize the need for retaining emergency medical services.

“Even some people who are in favor of no new taxes recognize that we are all mortal,” Miller said.


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