By JASON COX
Of the Keizertimes

The Oregon House of Representatives narrowly passed Monday a bill that could affect the March election deciding which fire district will serve north Keizer.

The 31-29 vote sends the bill on to the state Senate, which may or may not take up the bill. An emergency clause would make it effective immediately upon the governor’s signature.

The relevant amendment (you may hear it called Dash-6) would require that the residents of Clear Lake separately approve their annexation into Keizer Fire District from Marion County Fire District No. 1, which currently provides emergency services to the area.

The amendment’s backer, Rep. Brian Clem, D – Salem, said the upcoming election dilutes the Clear Lake neighborhood’s voice, as the entire city of Keizer and all of Keizer Fire District will vote on the matter. Clem seeks to achieve what he calls a “true double-majority.”

“The provisions in the bill would make it clear that KFD would be able to vote on whether they want a neighborhood brought into their district, and the neighborhood itself would be able to vote.”

He said that, if the bill passed, the Marion County Clerk would be able to tabulate votes from the affected area of north Keizer separately from the rest of the electorate,” Clem said.

Rep. Kim Thatcher, R – Keizer, is an opponent of the amendment, saying it isn’t the legislature’s place to jump into a dispute with an election drawing close. She pointed out that the question was sent to the electorate by two bodies – the city council and KFD board – that were elected by voters.

“I don’t think we should be sweeping in as the state (on) a local election in process,” Thatcher said.

Clem also questions whether the city of Keizer has authority to propose withdrawing part of the city from one special district without providing the service itself. Opponents of the KFD annexation say the city is using statutes intended only for cities who will service the area itself, like if the city had a fire department.

He said special districts should have to mutually agree to boundary disputes.

“That system created harmony for the rest of us for many, many years because if one party didn’t agree to it it didn’t happen,” Clem said.

Rep. Jean Cowan, D – Newport, said she would have opposed the bill in the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee had she been present for the group’s vote, saying it virtually guaranteed unintended consequences. It passed out of committee 6-1.

“We need to look at what those consequences will be,” Cowan said. “It’s a complicated and divisive local issue and it absolutely must be settled, but not through statutory change.”

The underlying and unrelated bill has political problems of its own: It was written to address landowners who live inside an urban growth boundary, but outside the service boundaries of a city, utility district or other providers of water or sewer service. The utility provider would be required to service that property owner’s land if the owner paid for all infrastructure costs. The bill faces considerable opposition from a number of Oregon mayors.