By JASON COX
Of the Keizertimes

Local voters opted not to change the fire protection system in Keizer, giving the nod to Marion County Fire District No. 1 over Keizer Fire District in Tuesday night’s special election.

Two measures – 24-325 and 24-326 – were on most Keizer residents’ ballots. Clear Lake residents only saw 24-326. Both had to pass in order for the annexation to take effect.

Returns showed Measure 24-325 failing 57 percent to 43 percent, with 3,108 votes against and 2,358 votes in favor. Measure 24-326 went down 60 percent to 40 percent, 3,769 to 2,519.

Keizer Fire had proposed annexing the Clear Lake neighborhood – with the 1,000 or so homes and tax revenue that come with it – into its territory. It’s currently served by Marion County Fire District No. 1.

Randy Franke, MCFD board president, said the two-district setup in Keizer is the best fire protection system available locally at the moment.

“Obviously we’re very appreciative and thankful that voters in the entire city of Keizer were able to pick their way through all the, shall we say, competing information out there and decided to leave Keizer covered by two different fire districts,” Franke said. “Historically, our volunteer firefighters at the Clear Lake station have done an outstanding job of providing service and being involved in the community,” Franke said. “And the citizens of Clear Lake, I think, spoke loudly and clearly that they had good service and saw no need to change.”

In a statement issued Tuesday night, Keizer Fire Chief Jeff Cowan said he was disappointed with the results.

“Unfortunately, this election result does not solve the 30-year-old issue of aligning emergency services in Keizer and they will remain divided with this outcome,” Cowan said. “The outcome of the election is surprising given the benefits to the people of Clear Lake and all of the city of Keizer and the transition plan to continue services within Marion Fire.”

The election caps off months of door-to-door campaigning, mailers and lobbying by the two political action committees representing each side. Two homeowners associations – one later rescinded its support – backed the annexation, while the Vineyards I association chose to back Marion County Fire.

Its president, Mike Welter, also chaired the Keep Keizer Safe political action committee. He got involved in the matter after reading in the Keizertimes about possible annexation “Obviously we’re relieved with the outcome and happy with how things turned out,” Welter said. “I definitely want to thank voters for voting how they did.”

Numerous lawsuits and legal complaints were filed by MCFD, and state Rep. Brian Clem, D – Salem, sought to modify the process via action at the legislature. He contended the residents of Clear Lake should have had a chance to separately vote on the measure.

But in the end the point was moot – even residents not covered by MCFD rejected the measure by some 16 percent.

One lawsuit is still in court – MCFD is challenging the city’s authority to withdraw territory from one special district and grant it to another through a process that in the past has been used for cities to provide service themselves. The city has asserted it has the right to do so via home rule authority, and Franke said the board may see the lawsuit through in an effort to put the issue to rest.

“We’ve spent a fair amount of money already on that, and I’m not convinced it’s to our interest – or, for that matter, other special districts’ interest around the state – to let that lawsuit drop before we have a judge’s decision,” Franke said.