Fire levies bring relief

Keizer Fire District (KFD) and Marion County Fire District #1 (MCFD1) were able to breathe a little easier Wednesday morning with preliminary election results in and in favor of their respective levies.

“The biggest thing personally is relief,” KFD Chief Ryan Russell said. “It’s been a lot of work to get to this point and it was, I don’t know if rewarding is the word, but it felt really good last night to see that we have the support of the community and I think it reflects on the job we do.”

KFD’s measure 24-490 passed with 59% in favor of the increase, though less than 6,000 votes were cast, according to initial results.

MCFD1’s results are a little closer. Yes votes have collected about 52% of the almost 7,000 ballots cast. After the initial count on election night, MCFD1’s measure 24-493 is passing by just 255 votes.

MCFD1 Chief Kyle McMann said they are “cautiously optimistic” about the measure passing.

“We’ve been able to take a breath and get us off the ledge of that anticipation,” McMann said. “Because assuming that it continues to stay positive, it provides a very long period of stability for the fire districts and the citizens we serve.”

Each levy raises rates from the current price of $0.59 per $1,000 of assessed home value up to $0.99. This averages out to $19 per month for Keizer homeowners, and around $17 per month for Marion County.

According to Russell, the increase funds nine full-time personnel. Without those nine, ambulance service as well as fire and medical calls would all suffer.

Measure 24-493 will largely pay to staff the engine company at the Four Corners station for MCFD1. If it doesn’t pass, a year from now MCFD1 would be looking at sending out layoff notifications.

And its failure would put added strain onto KFD as well. Less personnel at MCFD1 would mean more mutual aid calls coming into KFD, and possibly delaying response times.

One of the arguments made against the levies surrounds the size of the increase. For some, the 67% increase from $0.59 to $0.99 is too much, and perhaps a more gradual raise would be less of a shock. Russell said that they should have looked to pass an incremental levy increase five years ago. That was a missed opportunity, according to Russell, but the end result this year would have been the same.

“If we had done a smaller increase of 10 or a 20% five years ago, we would’ve been asking for a smaller increase this time, but the end goal would’ve been to be at the same rate, the same 99 cent rate because that’s just what we need for the next five years,” Russell said.

In the time since their previous levy passed in 2013, KFD’s calls have risen 73%. MCFD1 has seen an increase of calls by almost 30% since 2020.

And five years from now, while Russell thinks the rate will still be sufficient, there will be work to be done.

“We’re going to have to take a close look at it at that point,” Russell said. “And I hate to guess a number, but I don’t know that 99 cents is going to be good at 10 years out.”

Even with the new rates, KFD still finds themselves behind other districts. Russell pointed out that with the new constructions in town, the increase of revenue doesn’t necessarily match the project scale.

“If you look at something that’s a million dollar project, it only has a tax rate of up to $650,000 and then we get our dollar 35 and our 99 cents of that,” Russell said. “So we have a lot of new construction, it looks like things are going on, but it goes back to the tax structure at the state. It’s not adequately funding special districts.”