GUEST OPINION
By RANDY FRANKE

On behalf of Marion County Fire District #1 (MCFD#1), I want to address the current efforts by Keizer Fire District (KFD) to modify the long-standing fire district jurisdictional boundary lines between MCFD#1 and KFD (annexation). Because a recent letter from a KFD board member did not contain all the facts a formal response by the (MCFD#1) Board of Directors was needed.

The Clear Lake area and its residents have been served by MCFD#1, or our predecessor Brooks Rural Fire Protection District, since 1941. Recently we were able to expand our emergency medical response capabilities and added an additional ambulance to the Clear Lake station for even quicker response time to the community. Yes, you read it correctly, we have always taken care of this area and in May of this year we EXPANDED our service. KFD is upset that MCFD#1 chose to improve services for the Clear Lake residents as KFD believes this could negatively impact them up to $75,000 annually in “lost” ambulance revenue. What they don’t tell you is that they routinely and consistently have to rely on outside agencies to provide assistance to the entire KFD area through mutual aid agreements. What they also don’t tell you is that they can’t handle their present requests for ambulance services and therefore lose approximately $250,000 (or more) in revenue to other entities who do have the resources to take care of KFD area. They argue that a boundary adjustment would result in more money for KFD, and therefore they would be able to provide “better” service by hiring more people. Better than what? Better than what they cannot provide now? Better by continuing to rely on other agencies?

KFD has stated that they have been serving MCFD#1 Clear Lake area for 20 years. MCFD#1, on the other hand, has been providing high-quality fire protection and ambulance services to the area since 1941. The present relationship between MCFD#1 and KFD has resulted in maximum level of fire & EMS service to the entire city limits of Keizer, and certainly this includes our Clear Lake residents. We did not ask for this challenge but we will certainly respond to it.

So what is KFD’s motivation to annex the Clear Lake area from MCFD#1? The issue first surfaced with a letter from the Keizer Prairie Homeowners Association from its board of directors. Interestingly, when we looked closer we discovered that Keizer Fire Chief Jeff Cowan serves on the board of directors, which certainly suggests that the board acted with his influence.

I encourage you to look at a map or take a drive through the Clear Lake neighborhood and it will become very apparent which is the closer fire district, KFD or MCFD#1 (Clear Lake Station). Soon, you will realize this is really just about money for KFD to try and cover an on-going shortfall in meeting its operational expenses.

An additional letter from the Vineyards II Home Owners Association came following a presentation to their board of directors from an employee of the KFD. Since the two letters were sent, we have spoken to residents of both areas who indicated to us that they were never approached about this topic by their respective boards of directors and that they certainly had not made a decision to support the KFD initiative via their homeowners association. Yet these two letters are the only public requests regarding annexation to date. KFD asserts that “150 Keizer citizens in the Clear Lake area” requested the annexation which is highly questionable as our own personnel & friends who live within the area were never contacted. There is no evidence of any public discussions, hearings, or the desires of the Clear Lake residents themselves. Interestingly, MCFD#1 also has never been approached by the City of Keizer about the initiative. We know the Keizer City Council wants what’s best for all Keizer residents. Unfortunately, this action by KFD is NOT in the best interest of all Keizer residents. In addition, our attorneys have indicated that the City of Keizer faces the largest potential liability if this ill-conceived process moves forward.

The big question then is why is this issue important to the KFD? The answer is simple – KFD has budget problems and they need the property tax dollars from the Clear Lake Residents to serve the rest of the residents in the KFD. Over this last year the KFD proposed a surtax on cell phones and are currently considering adding another tax to residents water bills. KFD will be forced to borrow money within the next 90 days just to meet its operating expenses. The proposed annexation is just the latest attempt by KFD to get more money! In contrast, the MCFD #1 board of directors has not asked the City of Keizer to implement any additional fees for fire and emergency service in the Clear Lake area.

We know that KFD will benefit from annexing MCFD #1 Clear Lake area because of the increased property tax dollars KFD could potentially receive, but what is the benefit for the Clear Lake residents? Is it better service? NO. Whether you measure quality service by response time, distance from the nearest station, and number of firefighters responding to calls or level of trained responders – MCFD #1 comes out on top. At the present time Clear Lake residents receive the best possible service and it will not be improved by this poorly thought out annexation attempt.

Keizer Fire District asserts that it can provide better service at a “significantly lower cost.” There is absolutely no evidence to support this claim. Regarding the costs, there are a great deal of calculations that come into play; permanent property tax rate, temporary property tax levy rate, bonded indebtedness rate, and a potential fee of some kind (currently under consideration) to be added by KFD or the City of Keizer. One needs to look at them all to accurately compare apples to apples. When looking at projected 2012-2013 budget numbers, on an average $200,000 home the annual difference in the permanent rate and the operating levy rate between MCFD and KFD equates to less than $3.42 per month. For the price of a cup of coffee per month, Clear Lake residents currently receive the support and services of not one, but two fire providers through our existing mutual aid agreements.

Three additional issues raised recently by KFD were: 1) “Clear Lake residents will get a better insurance rating which results in reduced fire insurance rates for homeowners.” This is not correct. We’ve asked reputable, local insurance agents and they have said “the insurance rate is affected more by the location of the fire hydrant than by the ISO rating.” Most of the Clear Lake area has fire hydrants and an established water supply system, and that obviously doesn’t change. If you really want to know if your insurance costs will be reduced call your specific insurance agent and ask – don’t rely on rumors or unsubstantiated comments by an interested party. 2) “Continued services, police, public safety, education, CERT … keeping it on par with the rest of the City.” This is an interesting spin as fire & EMS service have absolutely nothing to do with law enforcement and other cited examples. This has nothing to do with police, it has nothing to do with CERT and it doesn’t have anything to do with public education! It’s just non-sensical buzz words that have no application in this situation. 3) KFD claims the annexation “properly allocates funding for fire, emergency and ambulance services that are already being provided … under an unfunded mutual aid agreement.” Question – does KFD think they should be compensated for participating in the long-standing mutual aid agreement? It may come as a surprise to KFD but mutual aid agreements are NOT typically funded anywhere in the State of Oregon. Mutual aid agreements are agreements between organizations that merely state “I’ll help you when you need it.” MCFD #1 and KFD have signed the exact same mutual aid agreement that every fire district/department has signed within Marion County. Simply put, when another fire agency needs help, we go. We help them, and they help us… Why do we do this? We do it because it is a wise use of resources and provides the best method of taking care of our community. We certainly do not do it in an attempt for financial incentive, nor do we do it to create false and misleading agendas that only serve to confuse the average taxpayer.

Finally, the annexation process that the KFD has chosen and asked the City of Keizer to support is complicated convoluted and has never been used successfully in this situation anywhere in the State of Oregon. The City should not unilaterally make a decision that will result in more expense to the City and less protection for the Keizer community simply to help the KFD with its budget predicament. Unfortunately, the process that KFD has chosen will prove to be long and costly. Our attorneys estimate the process could take upwards of two years. It will cost taxpayers money that public agencies could better invest elsewhere. In this economic time, public resources should be focused on essential services.

In conclusion, when all the facts are on the table and openly discussed about why KFD wants to annex the MCFD #1 service area called Clear Lake, the only logical explanation for this effort is so KFD can receive money to balance its budget in an attempt to maintain services to residents who do not live in the Clear Lake area.

We are happy to meet one on one or with groups of people to discuss specifics openly and candidly. More information can also be found on our web-site, www.wvfra.com and we are also on Facebook. If you would like to personally discuss the situation, please email me at rfranke25@comcast.net.

Randy Franke is president of the Marion County Fire District #1 board.