The Keizer Fire Board denied a request to pony up $7,000 for the Big Toy at Keizer Rapids Park at its meeting Tuesday, March 18.
Director Joe Van Meter was the most adamant in his denial.
“I am never going to vote for using tax money to support a city proposition,” Van Meter said.
The request came in the form of a letter from Keizer Mayor Lore Christopher asking for money to help purchase a pair of playground fire truck structures and fire station façade. The total cost of those elements in the build amounts to $16,000. Christopher asked for a decision by Friday, March 21.
Board President Greg Ego identified a couple of hurdles in addition to Van Meter’s opposition based on tax money, including the adoption of a supplemental budget that took place just prior to the Big Toy discussion.
“We can’t earmark that kind of money when it isn’t there in the budget now, and we just asked our community to support an increase in our levy and it wouldn’t look right to go and give some of that away,” Ego said.
Ego added that if the community build organizers wanted to send a request to the Keizer Volunteer Firefighters Association, that would be another angle, but it couldn’t come through the board or Chief Jeff Cowan.
Director Ron Christopher was the only voice offering support for the donation, but it never came to a formal vote.
In lieu of cash, Keizer Fire District and many associated volunteers are already committed to using their station’s kitchen to help feed three shifts of build volunteers for five days. The district’s Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) will also be overseeing safety during the build.
“It will also be our personnel on stand-by if an accident occurs,” Cowan said.
While board members denied the request, they did not close the door completely. Cowan was directed to research the possibility of using public education money from a 2009 SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire & Emergency Response) grant for the purpose of the build. The redistribution of funds would need to be approved by the grantors, but no one at the meeting knew how long that might take.
Director Mike Kurtz asked if reassigning money from the grant would detract from any plans to use it elsewhere. Cowan said he didn’t think it would, but that he would return to the board with that information if it became an issue.
Cowan also expected there to be some unspent funds in the grant, which must be used by November or else it reverts back to SAFER.
“The trick will be explaining how the Big Toy fits into public education. But, I don’t think it’s that big of a stretch because, when kids get to know firefighters as the good guys, it makes the whole community safer,” Cowan said.