By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

Like many organizations, the Keizer Fire District hasn’t been immune to the budget crunches brought about by the Great Recession. As a result, the two candidates vying for position 3 on the Keizer Fire Board see finances as the top issue heading into the election.

Ballots in the election are due Tuesday, May 17.

“The costs of 911 services continue to increase as does the cost of fire equipment and staff.  It is important that the district offers competitive salaries and benefits so we are able to retain trained, competent staff,” said Mike Hart, the current director seeking a third term on the board. “I hope that the Fire District is able to partner with the City of Keizer in creating a source of revenue for public safety that will help the Fire District and the Keizer Police Department to continue to provide the essential services needed in our community.”

Dave Lapof, Hart’s challenger and a former KFD volunteer coordinator, sees cost-cutting as essential to making up for a projected $400,000 shortfall in KFD revenue.

“We need to maintain basic equipment and training but large equipment purchases will either need to be delayed or the district will have to focus its efforts on passing bonds to acquire apparatus,” Lapof said.

While the general population continues to rely more heavily on cell phones, which are exempted from fees associated with 911 calls, the district needs to prepare to replace the lost revenue, he added.

“What we need to do is not pad the account and try to replace general fund dollars with these additional fees,” Lapof said.

Both men also weighed in on the decision to acquire an area of north Keizer currently served by Marion County Fire District No. 1 (MCFD1). Hart voted with the rest the fire board to acquire the property at a recent meeting, but details regarding how the district will pursue the issue are being held close to the vest. Acquisition of the area in the the Keizer Fire boundaries represents $350,000 of additional property tax revenue in the district’s coffers.

“We have to deal with the Clear Lake issue because we have received a request from the residents in that area.  We are collecting the information that we will need to fully evaluate the situation to determine what is in the best interests of the residents already in the Keizer Fire District as well of those in the Clear Lake area,” Hart said.

Lapof is supportive of the effort to examine the issue, but wants to consider the approach at length.

“I’m not a big fan of hostile takeovers, and would like to see a joint venture to test the waters and see how the numbers really play out,” he said.

The extra revenue will end up a wash if it’s used to staff a 24-hour ambulance in the Clear Lake area to replace the current 12-hour ambulance MCFD1 staffs, he said.

“It does afford some different opportunities to the volunteers of both agencies and that would help with both recruitment and retention for those folks, but the bottom line is most citizens don’t really care what color the fire engine or ambulance is that shows up,” he said.

With stints as both a fire board member and former city councilor, Hart said his experience with budgets prepare him well for the task of sustaining the district’s financial stability.

“Because of this experience, I clearly know and understand the role of the Board, the fire chief, and the staff.  I know a number of elected officials and top staff in the various agencies with which we work and I have their respect.  I have a perspective about how the various governmental agencies fit together to serve the people of Keizer,” Hart said.

Lapof’s experiences stem from being a longtime volunteer and as a sales representative for Braun Northwest Emergency Vehicle, he said they give him a big picture view.

“Having visited first hand with hundreds of other agencies and their staffs, I have seen how they operate and address common issues. The answers to many of our questions or situations have already been reviewed and we only need to ask for examples,” Lapof said.