(Oregonian (Portland, OR) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) May 01--Molalla Fire District officials are hoping a bit of temporarily help will pay off in long-term emergency preparedness.
District voters haven't approved a money measure in 28 years, rejecting the last one just two years ago. Meanwhile, the district -- second-busiest in Clackamas County -- continues to struggle with a low tax base, a rising population and a steady increase in calls for service.
But officials hope voters will loosen the district's ever-tightening financial belt by approving two money measures in the May 20 election. And oddly enough, it's because the district got some temporarily help through a grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which is allowing the district to hire six additional firefighter/paramedics for two years.
"We're hoping that district residents will see the faster response times and better service," said Fire Chief Vince Stafford. "If they like it, they may vote for the operating levy. And if they understand how tired our apparatus and equipment are, they may vote for the bonds."
Both money measures, placed on the ballot by the district's board of directors, would allow the district to collect additional money beyond the district's permanent tax rate of 78 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value, which is less than half the rate in neighboring fire districts.
Measure 3-442, a proposed $2.7 million, five-year operating levy would allow the district to keep three of the new firefighter/paramedics after the federal grant runs out.
Board Member Todd Gary said the main benefit of having more career firefighter/paramedeics would be seen in staffing. At least one career firefighter would be on duty around the clock, instead of relying on volunteers to fill the shifts. Two paramedics would be on duty at night and during weekends
The levy would carry a projected property tax rate of 43 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation. That means the owner of a $200,000 home would pay an additional $86 a year for five years.
The measure has unanimous support from the district's board and Molalla Professional Firefighters.
No formal opposition has arisen against the measure, but a few people have suggested that the district instead provide services "by subscription" -- that is, only the households or businesses that pay a fee would be protected. District officials called the plan unworkable, saying it would force them to compromise their pledge to protect life and property.
Measure 3-443 is a proposed $3.19 million, 11-year bond issue to pay for additional fire apparatus; build, furnish and equip a training facility; upgrade current apparatus; purchase medical equipment; and renovate current public-safety facilities.
The district currently has no water tenders to fight fires outside the city. Its fire engines are an average of 22 years old. Two are 28 years old and have open cabs, which do not meet current national safety standards. Rescue vehicles have more than 180,000 miles on their odometers.
"We're lucky that Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue has loaned us a water tender," Stafford said.
The district's self-contained breathing apparatus, used when firefighters enter burning structures or very smoky areas, are outdated and need to be updated to meet national safety standards.
Meanwhile, volunteer firefighters currently sleep on folding cots. Money from the bond issue would be used to build updated living spaces for volunteers and career firefighters.
The bond issue would carry a projected property tax rate of a little more than 26 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation. That means the owner of a $200,000 home would pay an additional $52.48 per year for 11 years to retire the bonds.
District officials say upgrading equipment is necessary to meet increasing training, safety and insurance requirements mandated by federal and state law and professional standards set forth by the National Fire Protection Association.
-- Rick Bella
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