Molalla Fire District needs to go for both bond and levy
The Molalla Fire District is going for a levy and a bond as its only recourse for finding desperately needed funding.
It has been 27 years since the Molalla community last voted in a bond or levy to help fund the Molalla Fire District.
Now Molalla firefighters are asking for a five-year levy and a separate bond to get the personnel, trucks and equipment they need to safely fight fires and provide emergency care for the people in this district.
We desperately need this bond and levy, said Molalla Fire Chief Vince Stafford. We really are in need. These are things that have to happen.
Molalla is the second busiest fire district in Clackamas County, working with a tax rate that is far below the county average.
We charge 78 cents per thousand as our permanent rate, and the average is $2.20 per thousand, Stafford said. We are well below the average, even if we can add on funding from both the bond and levy.
District voters have turned down several proposals for a tax increase since approving a 1986 bond issue to remodel the fire station. Meanwhile, the population in the 105-square-mile district has increased dramatically, leading to more calls every year.
At the same time, a tight budget has forced the district to borrow a water tender from neighboring districts, get by using 28-year-old fire engines, out-dated safety equipment and only five paid firefighter/paramedics. To make ends meet, the district also had to cut its Community Emergency Response Team and public education programs.
To remedy the situation, the fire board has placed a five-year, Local Option Tax for operations and equipment on the May 20 ballot, and a bond measure to provide funding for the purchase of water tenders, fire engines, modernizing district response vehicles, updating the districts stations and to purchase firefighting and medical equipment.
The levy measure is asking for 43 cents per thousand of assessed value. The estimated cost on a home assessed at $200,000 would be $86 per year, or 24 cents a day.
Thats not too bad, Stafford said. Its less than the cost for a cup of coffee.
With the passage of the levy, the Molalla Fire District would still have the lowest tax rate of any fire district in Clackamas County it would still be far lower than Coltons or Canbys.
Stafford said the five-year levy would pay for emergency medical responses and fire protection. It would make it possible to hire three desperately-needed paramedic/firefighters. In addition, it would pay for firefighter and EMT safety equipment, such as rescue tools, medical equipment, and protective clothing for the volunteers to wear on emergency scene.
The levy would put two paramedics on duty at night and weekends to better serve the community when a second or third call comes in for medical help. On normal ambulance calls, one paramedic could stay behind at the station in case they get a second call (back to back).
Stafford said almost 40 percent of all calls are back-to-back. Adding the paid personnel would not replace any EMS volunteers; this would just give the district the extra manpower needed.
Often we will have a second call come in while dealing with the first, he said. So we frequently need to have two or three people out at one time, but we dont have the staff or vehicles available to handle that. So thats the real goal to be able to get that second ambulance out.
The measure would also pay for the upgrade of new life packs, medical equipment, turnouts and additional fire and medical equipment that cant be funded through the districts current budget.
Fire Board President Mike Towner said the days of the volunteer fire department are far different than they used to be, in part because of the requirements state government puts on them.
There are crazy demands put on them, Towner said. Things have tightened up and the expectations are not what they used to be.
Towner said the passage of the levy would benefit taxpayers in more ways than one. Besides providing better protection to the community, the levy would make it possible for people living in the district to lower their insurance rates.
I think the people will recognize the huge impact additional personnel would have on response reliability, he said. If it werent for grants, we would not be surviving now.
The proposed tax rate would raise approximately $529,456 in 2014-15; $537,398 in 2015-16; $545,459 in 2016-17; $553,641 in 2017-18 and $561,946 in 2018-19.
The estimated tax cost for this measure is an estimate only, based on the best information available from the county assessor at the time the estimate was made.
The district needs to issue a general obligation bond not to exceed $3.2 million. If approved, the bond measure would provide funds for capital costs, including:
- The purchase of fire apparatus
- Construction, furnishings, equipment and improvements for a training facility
- Upgrade existing fire apparatus and equipment
- Purchase firefighting equipment and medical equipment
- Improvement, construction, furnishings, equipment and renovation of existing public safety facilities and pay bond issuance costs.
The bonds would mature not later than 11 years from the date of issuance. The measure is estimated to cost taxpayers an average of 26 cents per thousand of assessed value each year. For the owner of a home or property owner, the estimated annual average cost would be $26.24 per $100,000 of taxable assessed value.
We are in real need for that funding, Stafford said.
Towner said the board of directors placed the measure on the ballot for these reasons:
1. The district has no water tenders. The districts fire engines are, on an average, 22 years old. Rescue vehicles have 180,000 miles on them and are in need of replacement. Two of the districts engines are 28 years old and have open cabs, so that firefighters must ride out in the weather. These engines do not meet national safety standards.
2. The districts self contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) are out-dated and are in need of being updated to meet national safety standards. SCBAs are what firefighters use to breath with when they enter a burning structure. The SCBAs must have multiple repairs after uses.
3. Volunteer firefighters and EMTs allow the district to maintain current service levels. Updated equipment and stations will allow operation and provide updated training and living spaces for volunteers and staff. At this time, volunteers sleep on folding cots at the station. Current equipment makes it difficult to meet increasing training, safety and insurance requirements as mandated by federal, state and national fire protection organization.
Our fire tender was so old we couldnt get the parts for it any more, Towner said. They were driving with floorboards rotted out. And now we are only surviving because our neighboring districts loaned us fire tenders -- but thats only temporary. Thank goodness we have good relationships with our neighboring districts.
The estimated tax would be 26 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. Taxes on a home assessed at $200,000 would be estimated at 14 cents per day or $52.48 per year. The estimated tax cost for the measure is an estimate only, based on the best information available from the county assessor at the time the estimate was made.
If this doesnt pass, we are coming back we just have to, Towner said. We are at a point where we cant operate any more. These are things we really need. They are not wants. They are needs.