New forest tax targets homes in city limits

June 18, 2011

ODF sent postcards to affected city and county landowners

It is fairly unlikely that anyone at the June 13 Hood River City Council meeting would have anticipated an impassioned reading of Dr. Suess' "Yertle the Turtle" as part of the agenda, but that was in fact one of the more colorful events of the evening.

City resident Jim Klaas backed up his presented concerns about a proposed Oregon Department of Forestry tax assessment to city (and county) residents with the reading - which summarized his feelings about the imperious nature of those in power, noting King Yertle's similarity to ODF - both imposing crushing demands on those living within their kingdoms.

After the laughter subsided, Klaas went into serious detail about information he, Mayor Arthur Babitz and City Administrator Bob Francis had collected on the postcard notification he received from ODF indicating his city property (and several other thousand in Hood River city and county) had been reclassified as a forest, thereby triggering an added tax assessment.

"I learned some pretty shocking things at the informational meeting," said Klaas. "Basically, ODF said that having a single tree or 'fuel' of any kind on a property can allow them to classify it as forestland. I live on Wasco Street and have a few trees and bushes."

ODF provides wildland fire protection on private forest and rangelands within its fire protection district boundaries. This protection is funded by a combination of Fire Patrol Assessment funds obtained from landowners of classified forestlands within ODF fire protection districts and the general fund for the State of Oregon.

The ODF postcards, mailed out in mid-May, succinctly summarize the impending "reclassification" process, with which the agency is updating the existing map drawn up back in the 1960s.

What is not listed on the postcards is the fact that anyone receiving them - with land reclassified as forestland - will be paying either an additional $18.75 for vacant land or $66.25 for land with improvements, per year, in ODF fire patrol costs above their existing fire district assessments.

Francis, Klaas and Babitz made some inquiries into the numbers of cards mailed out by ODF in Hood River. Although not a firm figure, they reported it was likely in the neighborhood of 3,000.

Assuming the majority of those landowners have improvements, that equates to a new tax between $150,000 and $200,000 per year going to ODF. Within the city it was estimated that 250 landowners received cards - equating to a maximum of approximately $16,500 per year.

Klaas was supported in his concerns by Babitz, who expressed anger over the fact that ODF bypassed the city's jurisdiction in imposing a new tax on city residents. He also stated that the city's fire department was fully functional and adequate.

After extensive discussion, the city council voted to direct staff to research the issue, make recommendations, issue a protest to the ODF and provide testimony at an upcoming meeting with ODF.

"They have encroached into city boundaries," said Babitz, noting that previous ODF forest classification maps stopped short of the city boundaries. "I would say that the amount of forest has declined within the city since the 1960s."

An exception to the ODF-mandated assessments may occur when large land owners band together and provide their own fire protection. Klaas suggested that the city itself might function as a de facto large land owner "co-op" and request a waiver for those living within the city limits who already have access to the city fire department services.

Francis did note that large fire-fighting equipment owned by ODF, and used on recent occasions during city wildfires, would not be made available free of charge to jurisdictions not paying their new assessments. Reimbursement for their use could equate to thousands of dollars in the event of a large wildfire.

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Parkdale third graders sing "12 Disaster Days of Christmas"

Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See www.co.hood-river.or.us to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge



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