Fire services in the Valley have long been a contentious issue for those few who take the time to form an opinion. For years, a vocal group has developed grassroots opposition to increases in levy rates for fire services. They have been successful because few think about fire services until their house is on fire or they are in need of medical assistance.
Initiative 747, approved by voters in 2001, has restricted the amount of money a taxing district can collect. It basically says a taxing district can only increase the amount collected by 1 percent over the previous year. New construction is exempt from this collection. So, what started as a $1 per thousand of assessed value in 1991 has decreased to 73 cents today. Initiative 747 was a good measure because it put control of tax increases back in the hands of the general public. It forced elected officials to put together strong reasons for more money.
So, here we are with prices continuing to climb but the amount the district can collect increasing only minimally. Are the concerns of the commissioners real? Will they be forced to reduce the number of firefighters per shift? How will it work if North Bend is still a partner with Eastside Fire and Rescue? Is the idea of reviving an Upper Valley fire department really plausible, realizing we have to start from scratch? Would Fire District No. 38 residents really be willing to pay more for an Upper Valley department?
There are many other questions, but the real answer boils down to this: most residents won’t worry about fire services until they have flames in their home or need to call the aid car.
I do believe it’s time residents in the fire district approve an increase to $1. I also believe that if you really have concerns, then you should attend the fire district meetings and if you still don’t like what you are hearing, run for office. The current group of commissioners can easily be voted out of office if a strong group of candidates emerges.
But a message has been sent very clearly in past elections that the voters have control, not the commissioners. The defeat of numerous past requests for a levy lid lift has forced the commissioners to re-think their needs and the $1 levy rate is a result of that thinking. As a voter, it is also your right to ask for detailed budget explanations.
I urge the residents of District 38 to support the raise of the levy lid lift to $1 and if you are unhappy with the services you are getting, get involved.