A proposal to fund expanded local transit service via a payroll tax was rejected by Marion County voters on Tuesday. (Craig Murphy/KEIZERTIMES file photo)

By CRAIG MURPHY

Of the Keizertimes

Yes to fire trucks, no to more bus service.

Area voters rejected the Salem-Keizer Transit District’s Measure 24-388 on Tuesday, which called for a 0.21 percent payroll tax to bring in approximately $5 million in new funding.

Initial results released Tuesday night by the Marion County Clerk’s Office showed the measure failing, with 17,281 voters (58.32 percent) against and 12,352 voters (41.68 percent) for. The results showed 57 of 65 precincts counted, with a voter turnout of 31.07 percent.

The Keizer Fire District’s $6.2 million equipment bond, Measure 24-389, was more successful. The measure was approved by 3,768 voters (63.76 percent) while 2,142 voters (36.24 percent) were against it. The results showed 11 of 12 precincts counted, with a 34.08 percent voter turnout.

The payroll tax would have paid for the return of weekend transit service, extended weeknight service and free bus passes for local middle school and high school students. Those services were victims of budget cuts in 2009.

There was plenty of opposition to the proposed transit tax. Both the Keizer and Salem Area Chambers of Commerce vigorously fought against the measure, claiming it was not a fair burden on local businesses. The opposition included videos and sign-waving campaigns.

“There is always opportunity when you’re out there waving on the streets and when people with passion are behind the marketing effort,” said Christine Dieker, executive director of the Keizer Chamber of Commerce. “We also had phone banks and town hall phone conferences. It was a huge effort that brought enlightenment to the voters. Once people saw what it meant with this tax, I think they made the correct decision.”

Dieker emphasized the message all along wasn’t wasn’t anti-transit but a call for a better solution.

“Our effort wasn’t that we hate transit, but that this is not the right way,” she said. “If we think outside the box for solutions, it is definitely possible. I think it should start right away. Everything is possible.”

Allan Pollock, general manager for Cherriots, noted there was agreement from both sides of the campaign expanded transit service is needed.

“This was a referendum on the funding,” Pollock said. “We need to come together to fund transit better.”

Along that note, Pollock pledged the transit district’s commitment to work with chamber leaders and others to find that funding.

“We will be at the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce’s public policy meeting Thursday morning, saying we are here to work with you,” Pollock said. “Improved transit service is something everyone needs for community livability.”

There was no formal opposition to the KFD bond, which calls for new equipment to be purchased during a 20-year period. That includes replacing an ambulance purchased in 2008 referred to as a lemon by fire chief Jeff Cowan.

Joe Van Meter, president of the Keizer Fire Board, was appreciative of the results.

“We were clear on our message that we needed new equipment,” Van Meter said. “Keizer heard us loud and clear, and they supported us. This means we will keep quality equipment for our firefighters for the next 20 years.”

For more reactions, see the Nov. 6 print version of the Keizertimes.