The East County Fire and Rescue Board of Commissioners voted 3-2 to place a $1.275 million capital projects bond on the Nov. 5 General Election ballot.
After some discussion during its July 16 meeting, Jack Hoober, Gary Larson and Vic Rasmussen voted in favor of the resolution, while Martha Martin and Mike Berg voted against.
The 20-year capital projects bond would fund two new fire engines, one brush truck, new fire fighting and medical equipment, an emergency generator at Mount Norway Station 94, parking lot repair at Sunnyside Station 93 and a water well at Livingston Mountain Station 92.
A recent survey conducted by ECFR solicited comments and feedback from district residents about a potential bond measure. The survey was mailed during the week of July 1 to 3,500 households as part of the district’s newsletter. Citizens had the options of returning it to ECFR by July 12 or taking the survey on the district’s website.
A total of 66 people responded, according to Fire Chief Scott Koehler. Thir ty-eight (59.3 percent) supported a $1.275 million bond; 26 (40.6 percent) said they didn’t support a bond; and two said they were in favor of a $1.13 million bond.“Based on what we’ve heard back, I think there is support for this bond,” said Hoober. “I don’t see that much negative in the responses we’ve gotten so far.”
Martin said she has been contacted by a number of ECFR district residents who are against the proposal.
“I have heard from people that they are concerned about this bond — a lot of people are concerned about this bond,” she said. “My face-to-face interaction is a lot different than what the survey shows.”
Martin questioned whether there was enough time for people to respond to the survey.
“Even if there had been more time, there is no guarantee there would have been more responses,” commented Larson.
Martin said she also had some reservations about the content of information included on the ECFR website, during the survey period, and that it may have been an attempt to “sway” voters.
“There were some things in there I was a little concerned about,” Martin said. “Are we selling a bond or are we informing people about a bond?”
She suggested the district look further into options to address the issues with its aging fleet, including leasing vehicles and using alternative funding sources.
Berg commented that the bond will need a 60 percent super majority to pass.
“We didn’t make it, based on the survey results,” he said.
After Tuesday’s meeting, Koehler said options including leasing new vehicles and continuing to repair its current fleet have been weighed by the board in the past.
“We don’t have the money to do any of those,” he said.
Koehler said the fire district’s budget has decreased from $2 million per year in 2008 to $1.4 million in 2013. Prior to the economic downturn and assessed value decline, the district used cash to purchase most of its apparatus.
ECFR’s general obligation bond is now at its statutory limit of $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed value. This money supports its operations as well as payments on its non-voted debt — a “councilmanic” bond used to fund the construction of the Fern Prairie fire station in 2008. In addition its residents contribute 35 cents per $1,000 of assessed value to a local levy, the money from which goes directly to support EMS services provided by the Camas-Washougal Fire Department.
According to Koehler the district has tried to cut its costs, including layoffs of administrative personnel equal to 1.5 full-time equivalent employee hours at the end of 2012. This effort to retain firefighter positions saved the district approximately $95,000 annually, he said.
“We have not asked for extra money in years,” Koehler said. “We have done everything we absolutely could to survive.”
ECFR provides fire protection and emergency medical service response to approximately 10,000 residents who live in the 60 square miles of rural southeastern Clark County. It has six stations, two of which are staffed 24-hours-a-day. It staff includes nine full-time and five part-time firefighters and approximately 50 volunteers.