K. Henson and R. Franke

By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

The Keizer City Council plans to adopt a resolution scheduling a public hearing on the potential removal of the Clearlake neighborhood from Marion County Fire District No. 1 (MCFD), the seeming first step to placing it under the protection of the Keizer Fire District (KFD), but the MCFD chief and president of the MCFD fire board say it’s putting the cart before the horse.

“Nothing is guaranteed when it comes to the legal system. I don’t think two years would be out of the realm of possibilities for appeals of something like this,” said Randy Franke, president of the MCFD fire board.

While talks between the two fire districts have been limited at best since February of this year, Chief J. Kevin Henson said MCFD has yet to be contacted at all by city officials. Given the circumstances,  district officials are already planning to contest the process at the hearing for annexation, withdrawal, urban services agreements, division of assets, county commissioner meetings and CAD dispatch changes.

“The boundaries can’t just change according to the ORS they cite. I don’t think [the city of Keizer] knows that and, because there hasn’t been a public process, I don’t think they know what they don’t know,” Henson said.

Keizer Fire District officials have requested the city’s assistance in withdrawing the Keizer Prairie and Clearlake neighborhoods from MCFD1 with KFD stepping in to assume services for the area. Keizer Fire officials contend that, under Oregon law, the city would be allowed to withdraw the property because the desired area does not comprise the area of the MCFD1 district.

The city will have to hold a public hearing on the issue and weigh any action against statewide planning goals and the interests of the city. Taking the withdrawal route would seemingly allow KFD to avoid the ballot box in deciding the issue, but it would require consent from the Marion County Board of Commissioners. What’s at stake for both fire districts is the property taxes collected on the homes in the area, which amounts to about $500,000 under MCFD and might fall to around $350,000 under KFD protection provided no new bonds are issued.

The problem with KFD’s position on the statue, Henson said, is that it was written for city departments and not independent entities like KFD.

“The statue also states that there must be an existing agreement to the annexation between the two parties and there is none,” he said.

Henson also questions the KFD interpretation of who would assume which debt for the various bonds each agency has issued.

“Keizer Fire claims the property owners in the area will be responsible for the MCFD debt, but not the KFD debt. According to our attorneys, the party responsible for the KFD debt would be the city of Keizer,” Henson said. “If the hearing is the first time we have to tell them they’ve got a bond debt problem, that’s not going to look good for anyone.”

Franke said the core issue is not one of service levels as it was portrayed early on in the skirmish.

“Services will not improve if a takeover occurs. At best, it will stay pretty much the same. It’s not about best service, it’s about more money for KFD,” Franke said.

Henson said Keizer Fire might be able garner some additional revenue by staffing its part-time ambulance to full-time status, but that there is nothing to be gained from a turf battle over Clearlake.

“When this is all done, we’re still going to be neighbors and we will need to work together,” Henson said.