by Deborah Steele Hazen
Ballots for the May 21st special district election will go into the mail late next week.
Numerous special district board seats are on the ballot – most do not have more than one candidate running for them.
Additionally, there are two tax levies on the ballot to which we would draw our readers’ attention – the renewal of the 9-1-1 operating levy and a new five-year local option levy for the Clatskanie Rural Fire Protection District (CRFPD).
If you place any value at all on emergency services, it would be foolish not to renew the 9-1-1 levy.
Unless your property value has increased – and for most of us that isn’t the case – this won’t cost you any more in property taxes than you are paying right now.
In 1998, the voters originally passed an operating levy for the 9-1-1 call center that was two cents per $1,000 of assessed property value higher than the 29 cents they are asking for now. Voters renewed that levy in 1998, 2003 and 2008.
Now we are being asked to approve a five-year operating levy renewal rate of 29 cents per $1,000. Even in these economic times, it’s a “no-brainer.” The answer is yes.
For a home assessed at $200,000, that is $58 per year. The 9-1-1 district also collects a permanent rate of 25.54 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, meaning that the total cost of the renewed operating levy plus the permanent rate on a home assessed at $200,000 would be $109.08.
The 9-1-1 district has done an excellent job of keeping costs down over the years, while improving and updating its communication equipment and training.
Staffed 24 hours per day, the Columbia 9-1-1 Communications district dispatches for every fire, emergency medical and law enforcement district in the county, plus the Oregon State Police and the state forestry department – a total of 16 public safety agencies.
For 2011-12, the Columbia County 9-1-1 center received a total of 82,011 calls – an average of nine calls per hour, 224 per day. It dispatched 62,194 responses, and processed 8,117 traffic stops.
There are very few of us who will be lucky enough to get through this life without the need to call 9-1-1 either for ourselves or for a loved one. I had to call three or four times for my parents, and I can testify to how important it is to find an efficient, compassionate, highly-trained 9-1-1 operator on the other end of that line and to know that help is on the way.
Fire District Levy
I can also attest to the sense of relief when the CRFPD ambulance pulls up in the driveway and two or three calm, highly-trained, familiar faces are there to take care of your loved ones.
After many years of operating under its regular tax rate – set by a series of ballot measures in the 1990s – the district can no longer meet the increasing costs of personnel, equipment and other operating expenses.
When I was a kid, just about anyone could be a volunteer for the fire department with a little bit of training at the weekly meetings.
Today, volunteers require the same training and expensive equipment as career firefighters. Because of work and family responsibilities, there are just not that many people who have the time, the physical ability and the emotional strength to be a CRFPD volunteer.
We were happy with the change the CRFPD made a couple of years ago to allow people to be either an emergency medical volunteer, a firefighter volunteer, or both, because we felt it opened up the opportunity for more people to volunteer. For example, if I were younger and not quite as over-involved, I would consider training as an emergency medical volunteer. But, I know I wouldn’t have the physical ability to be a firefighter.
We also appreciated the recent changes that created different shifts for command personnel, improving coverage. We believe that the former policy of requiring paid staff to live within the fire district should be reinstated.
However, all of those changes still do not make up for the decreasing ranks of volunteers faced with huge training requirements, the increasing costs of payroll and equipment.
Of the 962 calls for service in 2012 – that works out to an average of 2.64 per day, and they come at any hour of the day, any day of the week – 61 percent of them were emergency medical service (EMS) related.
The proposed five year local option levy will provide funding for four fulltime firefighter paramedics – almost doubling the amount of paid staff the district has now.
If approved, the CRFPD levy will cost property tax payers an additional $1.2533 per $1,000 of assessed property value. Using the same $200,000 property as the 9-1-1 district for an example, that will cost an additional $250 per year.
That is on top of the CRFPD’s existing tax rate of $1.71 per $1,000, about $342 on a $200,000 property.
Because of Oregon’s complicated property tax system, people who live within the Clatskanie city limits are likely to pay less. That is because the area within the City of Clatskanie is already in “compression” – we are already paying the maximum of $15 per $1,000 in property taxes – $5 maximum for education and $10 combined total for all other property tax levying districts (the city, fire district, library, park and recreation, county, etc.) Unless the real market values of their property are more than the assessed values, city dwellers will see little if any increase.
It is a hard time to be asking people to pay more in property taxes. But, how valuable is your life or the lives of those you love? The CRFPD frequently gets more than one call at a time. This levy translates directly into our fire department’s ability to respond quickly to emergencies.
Sometimes minutes make the difference between life and death.
We urge you to join us in voting yes on the CRFPD levy.