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Canyon County's failed EMS levy likely to be reworked and brought back to voters in November

Canyon County ambulance units sit outside Nampa's EMS station 3 in Nampa.
Canyon County Paramedics
Canyon County ambulance units sit outside Nampa's EMS station 3 in Nampa.

Voters in Canyon County last month gave a resounding thumbs down to new and renewed property taxes, but at least one levy is likely to be back on the ballot this November.

“We do need to run again,” Michael Stowell, chief of Canyon County Paramedics, told county commissioners Friday.

Fifty-nine percent of voters said no to the Ambulance District’s proposal for a nearly $8 million override levy request. It was primarily to fund a new station in South Nampa, the remodel of another station, and new ambulance units and the staff to operate them.

Levy issues require a supermajority of voter approval to pass.

“My opinion - and I know it's up to the board and we're not asking for the board to decide today - but I do feel like we still need to run in November,” Stowell said.

But he said they will have to reduce the sticker shock for voters, who just said no to a $21.19 per $100,000 assessed value property tax increase. And, he said, they’ll have to continue to work hard to educate the public about the need.

“You have to hit all of … the Facebooks, the Instagrams, the Nextdoor, news media, open houses,” even if very few people show up, Stowell said. “It’s going to take all those and then some.”

The risk in failing to secure new funding, commissioners noted, is that the county simply outgrows its emergency medical response capacity.

“Sooner or later, there will be an incident and there will be a lot longer response time to this incident because of these choices,” said Commission chair Brad Holton.

He said people who call for help expecting a timely response but don’t get one “will likely be in a position that they can litigate the snot out of it, and justifiably so.”

Canyon County paramedics already regularly take ambulance units off the street due to staffing shortages, Stowell said, and even though the department is under budget now, it’s overspending on overtime pay.

The department has relied on budget surpluses to shore up the EMS budget in the past, but Stowell said they don’t have that option any longer and need to make sure they can stay within the existing budget or they’ll run out of money like they did in 2017.

“We borrowed against our January tax check to make payroll and thankfully we only had to do it once,” Stowell said. The department managed that process by using a tax anticipation note.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates Canyon County grew 11.5% between April of 2020 and July 2023, and is now home to more than 257,000 people. Stowell said new funding is needed just to maintain his department’s status quo.

“We're losing people,” he said. “We've got to figure out how to stabilize our compensation and add a couple of units.”

And while Stowell doesn’t want to lose momentum from this spring’s education campaign for the now-failed levy, he also knows the November ballot is likely to be crowded again with funding issues.

“We’re all in the same boat,” he said. “I think we need to just keep building on that [momentum] and keep moving forward.”

Troy Oppie is a reporter and local host of 'All Things Considered' for Boise State Public Radio News.

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