Vital fire levies on ballots

*EDIT 10/19 4:00 p.m.: The average overall cost for Keizer residents was incorrectly stated as $7.50, that is the average increase in cost. The story has been edited to correctly reflect the overall average cost.

Local option levies for Keizer Fire District (KFD) and Marion County Fire District #1 (MCFD1) will be on November ballots as the two agencies look to sustain their current services amid increasing call numbers and record inflation.

Both levies — measure 24-490 for Keizer and 24-493 for Marion County — would charge a rate of $0.99 per $1,000 of assessed home value for five years, up from the current rate of $0.59 for each. For Keizer homeowners, this would be an average increase of $7.50 per month, for an overall average cost of $19. For MCFD1’s levy, homeowners would pay an average of $205 per year, or a little more than $17 each month.

What are you paying for?

The increased funding would be used by both agencies to continue their current services, add staff or in some cases enable them to not have to cut staffing.

With the levy, KFD will add four firefighter/paramedics to staff additional apparatus, as well as fill the vacant Community Risk Reduction Specialist position.

They say that the levy will enable them to sustain their current level of service, maintain the response time standard of six minutes or less, retain all current positions and keep pace with the city’s growth.

For MCFD1, the levy could be vital to maintaining numbers. Federal funding from the Staffing Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Grant (SAFER) ends in February 2025. Funding from the grant pays for nine firefighters, 17% of on duty fire and EMS personnel. MCFD1 says this equates to a 24/7 full-time, dedicated engine company at the Four Corners Fire Station.

The funding would be used by MCFD1 to maintain two dedicated fire engines at the Middle Grove and Four Corners Fire Stations and maintain personnel.

Why is it needed?

Agencies like KFD and MCFD1 aren’t immune to the surging prices of fuel and supplies that seem to be affecting everybody. KFD projects their operating budget in 2028 to be nearly double what it was in 2019. 

On top of rising costs, each district has seen an increase in calls, and the permanent tax rates — $1.35 per $1,000 in Keizer and $1.90 in Marion County — fall short.

For Keizer, that permanent tax rate is the lowest of eight comparable agencies. At $1.75, Hermiston Fire is the closest to KFD’s, while Douglas County Fire District #2 has the highest at $3.16.

KFD’s current levy of $0.59 was established in 2013. In the 10 years since, they have seen calls increase 73%. Calls for this year are already up 10% from this time last year.

MCFD1 handles nearly 10,000 calls per year, servicing 59,000 people in 88 square miles. They are on track for a 6.6% increase this year, putting their total at nearly 11,000 possible calls in 2023. Calls are up nearly 30% from 2020 when the current levy was established.

This increase in calls is equivalent to staffing an additional separate response unit, according to MCFD1.

With MCFD1’s new levy, residents’ average total rate of $2.89 per $1,000 assessed value would be less than the $2.94 they paid in 2020.