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‘We haven’t changed the rate in 10 years’: Bend Fire & Rescue trims May levy request to boost odds of success

(Update: Adding video, comments from Bend Fire and the Bend mayor)

Survey at 81 cents/$1,000 of property value found bare-majority support; cost trimmed to 76 cents

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Bend Fire and Rescue has a year and a couple of months before their current operating levy expires, but they are planning ahead and will be seeking a successor levy in May. Bend Fire has trimmed several million dollars off the levy it's taking to voters on the May ballot.

The proposed levy will be $0.76 per $1,000 of taxable assessed property value. The fire chief said for a home of $300,000, a homeowner will pay $19 a month.

"We rely on the existing levy to provide our services, and because we haven't changed the rate in 10 years." Fire Chief Todd Riley said Monday.

"We need to add firefighters, and the only way we can add firefighters is with an increase to our funding," Riley added. "We are increasing this levy to have that new engine at Station 6 (Pilot Butte Station), as well as adding a one advanced life-support paramedic ambulance to help transport."

Riley said more than 80% of calls are emergency medical incidents.

"Our call volume over those same 10 years has increased by 60%, and so we're essentially spending the same amount of staff and resources on 60% more calls," he said.

Bend city Mayor Melanie Kebler explained the department covers a broad area.

"As we've grown as a community, we've seen an increased call for service, everything from medical to fire," Kebler said. "Also, most people don't understand our fire department doesn't just cover the city of Bend, they cover the whole rural fire department around the city of Bend."

The initial levy going to voters would have asked for $0.81 per $1,000 of assessed value, but it was trimmed to the $0.76.

Riley said, "We used 81 cents in our community survey and so when the consultant  came back and gave us the results of the survey it was apparent that there was voter hesitation due to cost." 

Kebler said, "That's why we are working with our rural fire board, as well as the city council, to come together and say, here's the level of funding we need to make sure that we are keeping everyone safe in the community and responding the way that we should be to fire and medical emergencies.

The department's first five-year operating levy won voter approval in 2014 and was renewed in 2019 at $0.20 per $1,000 of taxable assessed property value.

Riley and other officials met last week with city councilors for a briefing on the planned levy request, which was trimmed from an initial proposal of 81 cents per $1,000 of assessed value after a recent community survey found less-than-majority support for the higher amount (see council presentation below), though it rose back above 50% with more information provided to survey respondents.

The city used federal American Rescue Plan Act dollars to open the Pilot Butte fire station and add staff until the new levy request.

Rural Fire Board member Ray Miao told councilors at last week's meeting what the survey results underscore: "This is not going to be an easy campaign. Everything has to be one voice, one message" to succeed, he said.

Here is Bend Fire's City Council presentation from last week:

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Kelsey McGee

Kelsey McGee is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Kelsey here.


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