News staff writer
October 21, 2006
Voters in Cascade Locks will be asked on the Nov. 7 ballot to vote on whether or not to create a fire department taxing district for the community.
Fire Chief Jeff Pricher answered the following questions about what is being proposed:
1.What is the proposed fire district and how will it be funded?
The proposed fire district is a means for Cascade Locks fire and ambulance services to eliminate a funding shortfall and allow us to begin setting aside money to replace equipment as it wears out. It will also allow us to buy vital emergency equipment we need, but can’t now afford. This is the first step in implementing the department’s 15-year plan for a financially stable fire and ambulance service.
The proposed fire district will be funded through a combination of a district tax assessment, contracts (with the city, Multnomah County and individual homeowners in Dodson-Warrendale), previously established fees from ordinances and resolutions and income from the fee-for-service ambulance. This will allow an estimated $250,000 budget before ambulance write-offs.
2.Why does the city need it?
City revenues have been falling since Measures 5 and 50. The city has not been able to keep up with inflation and meeting increasing regulatory requirements. Even allocating nearly half of the city’s property tax revenue is not enough to fund the department.
Additionally, Medicare, Medicaid and the Oregon Health plan do not fully reimburse the ambulance. We must write off 30-40 percent of our annual billings as uncollectible. This results in a $50,000 gap in funding which will be plugged by the proposed district. With the baby boomers getting older, no reserves, and an aging fleet and equipment; we will be ill-prepared to meet resident demands for adequate fire protection and ambulance services without the new levy.
3. What will the city's liability be for such a district?
The city’s only liability will be to maintain the contract with the district. The liability of a district will be the same as any other special district. If the new district can’t pay its debts, which is unlikely, only the officers and manager will be accountable (not the citizens and tax payers as some have suggested!).
4. Opponents have argued that the city does not need a separate layer of government. What is your response to that?
In a perfect world, the city would ask the voters for this increase in the city’s existing tax levy. Unfortunately, this is not possible due to tax limitation measures. The state prohibits SDC fees for fire and ambulance to be imposed on developers. A temporary levy is not a permanent solution to a permanent problem. All of these options were considered by the Council and rejected as infeasible. While a district creates a new entity, it provides a means to focus energies only on fire and ambulance making the department more accountable.
While some say a new district is not ideal, it is the lesser of two evils (The evil being, not funding what the volunteers are stating is a priority and allowing emergency services to continue to suffer).
Ultimately all concerns that have been brought up will be addressed.
Stable funding is the primary goal.
5. Who will run the district and what will their responsibilities include until the election of the first board of directors is held?
That is up to the county commissioners. The city will recommend that our council be selected as an interim board to get the district started. They can establish the framework for an IGA, a budget, and lay the foundation for the transition to an elected board.