By JASON COX
Of the Keizertimes

Not renewing a 16-cent levy at Marion County Fire District No. 1 may cost the agency about $390,000 – money its union president said is needed to remain at current staffing levels.

The MCFD board voted 3-2 in December not to seek the levy renewal when it expires this year, but Kris Boyer, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 2557, questioned whether firefighters would bear the brunt of a funding shortfall. The union contract expires in June.

“Whether or not this is their ploy will be revealed as bargaining continues in the next few months,” Boyer said. “This decision is disappointing and the voters should have the opportunity to determine service levels.”

It’s another chapter in what has become a fractious relationship between the union, Chief J. Kevin Henson and some board members. The union backed Bob Palmer and Andrea Batchelor in unsuccessful challenges against Randy Franke and Orville Downer last year.

Downer was one of two board votes in support of renewing the levy.

“We can’t go behind,” Downer said at December’s board meeting. “All this will be doing is keeping up. If we go for it now we may not get it, but if we don’t ask for it we won’t get it (and) we’ll never get it back, probably.”

Franke felt upcoming potential reductions at the state level could mean a longer timetable for economic recovery.

Boyer can’t understand why the board wouldn’t at least ask voters, saying Henson claimed a district-financed poll showed nearly 90 percent support. He said his organization plans to back candidates for board elections at the next opportunity.

“It is certainly my hope that the MCFD board doesn’t expect that firefighters and their families will pay for this board’s political agenda and legal battles through our continued concessions,” Boyer said.

Exact budget numbers are still a month or two away, but Henson acknowledged the cuts would be another financial blow to an agency that has seen substantial cuts. The results of collective bargaining will play a role, and he said the decision to renew the levy could be reversed if the board wishes.

“It’s important to emphasize the board made this decision based on the economy,” Henson said. “If the economy turns around the board may reconsider this decision in the future.”

Union firefighters took wage concessions, and other cuts included suspension of deferred compensation match, higher health care premiums for chief officers, no step increases and canceling vacation cashout. No one got raises in the current budget cycle, Henson said. He said further cuts may result in changing where some personnel and equipment are stationed.

Marion County Fire District is also involved in legal challenges against the city of Keizer and Keizer Fire District related to the latter’s proposed annexation of Clear Lake from MCFD.