MCFD1 to ask for reduced levy in May

Marion County Fire District Clear Lake

When Marion County Fire District #1 (MCFD1) had their local option levy rejected by voters in the November general election, the district was forced to make significant cutbacks at the start of the year — the levy accounted for 30%, or $2.4 million, of MCFD1’s operating revenue. 

The district was forced to lay off 12 full-time firefighters/paramedic, close down fire stations and take emergency apparatus out of service. MCFD1 is also down to just having three responding units — down from the 5.5 units they had before the budget cuts. Additionally, MCFD1 has lost 23 volunteers in the last 14 months. 

Due to the lack of personnel, MCFD1 is, at times, unable to respond to 911 calls. Last month, when the ice storm caused a multitude of emergencies around the Salem-Keizer area, the district was unable to respond to 20 calls for service.

“I have been in the fire service for 28 years and I have never seen anything like this,” MCFD1 fire chief Kyle McMann said. “Usually when someone calls the fire department, we always come. But that is not the case right now.”

McMann also said that response times have been delayed by over a minute, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but could be the difference between life and death.

“Response time is everything. A fire, for instance, doubles every 60 seconds. A brain or heart without oxygen for 60 seconds can lead to cardiac arrest or death. That is why response times are so important,” McMann said. “There is a lot of risk for poor outcomes right now.”

From 2016 until 2020, the district received an option levy of $0.71 per $1,000 of assessed property value. After their levy renewal was rejected in November, MCFD1 will be back on the ballot for the May 2021 election. This time they will be asking voters approval for a lesser amount — $0.59 per $1,000 of assessed property value.

The funding would be used to hire back nine full-time firefighters/paramedics and would increase the number of responding units from three to four, including a dedicated three-person engine company.

“We are creating a liability for our citizens right now because we sometimes have no units available to respond to a call. But we are also putting our own workers at risk who might need backup during certain situations,” McMann said. “When we were deciding how we could better protect our citizens but also mitigate our own risk, we determined that it would take $0.59 (per $1,000) to pay for a dedicated engine that would always be available.” 

If the levy is approved, the district would receive funding for five years, beginning on July 1. The dedicated engine would be placed at the district’s Middle Grove location, which is centrally located and is one of MCFD1’s busiest locations. 

“We understand that it is tight for people right now, but we believe that it is important to staff this and keep people safe,” McMann said. “We are taking it down to the bare bones. That is what we are asking the voters.” 

If the levy fails, McMann says that there will be even more of an increase in delays in services and will further limit the district’s ability to respond to every call — call volumes have increased by nearly 50% since 2013.

“If the levy fails, response times will continue to increase and there will be delays in service, which could continue to cause a decrease in morale among our workers and might make them want to search for other jobs,” McMann said. “At the end of the day, we are just trying to be transparent with the community. We are doing the best we can, but we need some help.”

Those with questions about the levy can email McMann at [email protected] or call 503-588-6535. 

“If people don’t understand, we are here to answer their questions,” McMann said. “But no matter what happens, we will be here serving the people to the best of our ability.”