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Voters will decide the future of fire service in Newberg via measures appearing on November ballot

Ultimately, the residents of Newberg will decide whether the responsibility for fire, emergency medical and ambulance services will fall on an outside entity or revert to a city-owned and city-run service.GARY ALLEN - TVF&R Fire Chief Les Hallman (left) speaks with participants in a town hall meeting held Oct. 18 at the Chehalem Armory Center.

That decision will come in the form of a pair of referendums on the Nov. 7 general election ballot: Measure 36-190 and Measure 36-191. Ballots were mailed to area voters last week.

Measure 36-190 would annex Newberg into the Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue district, which has been responsible for fire services for the past 15 months. The Newberg City Council, following the advice of former Newberg Fire Department officials, signed a two-year contract with TVF&R in July 2016 because the NFD could no longer adequately serve the community due to budget cutbacks, the growth of the town and the number of calls. If Newberg is brought into the district, TVF&R would levy a tax of $2.07 per $1,000 of assessed value, the same rate all municipalities within the district pay.

Measure 36-191 is an amendment to the city's charter that would reduce the taxing rate the city levies on its residents by $1.88 per $1,000 of assessed value in the year following the amendment. It would also allow the city to recoup some of that reduction at a rate not to exceed 3 percent per year, which would amount to about 5.5 cents per $1,000 assessed value in the first year, or roughly $16 annually for a $300,000 home.

Measure 36-191 came about because some residents were concerned they would be taxed by both TVF&R and the city for the same services. Although the city doesn't break down in its budget how much goes toward fire services, city officials have estimated that figure at $1.88 per $1,000.

The promise of TVF&R permanently taking over fire services in Newberg has been generally well received by the citizenry, although city and TVF&R officials have battled misperceptions since the plan was unveiled.

A town hall held on Oct. 18 at the Chehalem Armory Center was an opportunity for officials from both entities to give background on the issues and answer residents' questions. It was attended by roughly two dozen people.

Newberg City Manager Joe Hannan was joined on the panel by TVF&R officials Les Hallman, who was chief of the Newberg Fire Department before the merger, and Mike Duyck, who began his career in Newberg.

After the trio provided the audience with an ample background on how the city came to point of placing the two measures on the ballot, as well as TVF&R's structure and responsibilities, some in the crowd had questions, while others were in more of a declarative mood.

Robert Soppe, a former city councilor, characterized the city's flyer promoting the measures as "lacking" and charged that the city hasn't committed to reducing the tax rate by $1.88 for more than one year.

"The council clearly has shown an intent to get that money back by the fact that when they had something before them that would have stripped a $1.88, they didn't even get a second to the motion," he said. "The only reason they got the charter amendment on the ballot was by putting in a provision so they can get that money back at 3 percent a year. So in 20 years, if they post that every year, they got back their money. So I think that's lacking."

His question to Hannan was if the charter amendment doesn't pass will the council still reduce the $1.88 or will they collect it on top of what TVF&R charges?

Hannan's response was to recount the council's actions and why they were made necessary, specifically how Soppe and others wanted to put a charter amendment on the ballot but didn't get it done.

"Then the council was asked, 'Here, would you put it forth?'" he said, explaining that state law allows both citizens and governing bodies to place measures on the ballot. "So that's what (the council) did."

He reiterated that what's on the flyer is what the council voted on. "The intent is just what it says on the card, not to levy," he said.

Hannan reiterated that if the charter amendment passes the $1.88 will not be in the next budget, but every year the council looks at the budget and decides how to break down the $4.52 per $1,000 assessment that is now being levied.

"I will not put, if the annexation goes through, I will not propose a budget that has a $1.88 levied," he said.

Which prompted an animated response from longtime city budget committee member Lon Wall.

"This is needlessly complicated, as it frequently gets," he said. "I'll put it very, very simply: if the charter amendment does not get passed the city council has the ability, they have the option, to raise the entire $1.88, which would be, once it's all figured out, roughly about a 40-plus percent increase in property taxes. That's for every business owner, every renter, every homeowner, everybody in the city of Newberg that owns property, that rents property, that uses property. That's going to be an increase on them if this charter amendment doesn't pass."

Wall, who said he was in favor of the annexation, went on to characterize the council and city staff as perhaps being disingenuous.

"Now it is true the city manager is kind of in an awkward position (because) he kind of has to try to explain this stuff," he said. "It's true the council did say that 'we won't levy this year and maybe we won't levy next year and don't you trust us?'

"No, as a taxpayer, I do not trust you. If I was mayor and I was on the council and a bunch of my clones were on the council, I wouldn't trust the council. That's not meant to be an insult to them. The city always has places they can spend the money. No matter how much money the city gets they will always have a way to spend it. They always have an argument. Someone will always come up with something that we need and in a lot of cases we do."

He said his sole concern was the possibility that taxes would be raised regardless of the outcome of the election.

"Maybe they won't do it this year, maybe they won't do it next year, but there's nothing that says they can't do it the year after that, or the year after that or the year after that," he concluded.

Hannan then stressed that the council hadn't chosen to put these issues to a vote "haphazardly," but that they were determined to do the right thing.

"They said as a group, 'No, were not going to levy.' They said that. It's on the record, their accountable and that should mean something (for) honorable people who are volunteers."

He continued that Newberg officials shouldn't be held to account for the shenanigans of their counterparts at the federal level.

"For that council to take that step and say, "Let's put it up to a vote there, that's got to count for something," he said. "It's very easy to bash and to say, 'Well, these are all politicians or something and they'll say one thing and do another. … That's not what's happening. That's not our record and our history in Newberg."

Another city councilor then took the opportunity to lend his views on the matter.

"I'm Stephen McKinney and it wasn't my idea. …," he said of the charter amendment. "This is the hugest disservice to the city of Newberg that I could ever contemplate."

He also remarked that should the annexation vote fail then the charter amendment is void and the tax rate would remain what it is now. He added that the city then would have to renegotiate with TVF&R for fire services, although TVF&R officials have said the district is not interested in long-term contracts with municipalities.

Then he turned his attention to Soppe, Wall and the charter amendment.

"They didn't do it, they passed it along to the City Council and the City Council wrestled with it to the best of their ability to try and come up with something," he said. "They should have proceeded with their proposed amendment to the charter, all right. Now mind you that most civilized governments don't change their constitutional document to come up with a policy to deal with financial issues. You come up with an administrative policy that deals with the dollars and cents issues. This thing has been backassward from the very beginning."

The forum over, city and TVF&R officials broke into small groups with the citizenry for more questions.

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