"We are at that breaking point," fire chief says
SISTERS, Ore. (KTVZ) -- The Cloverdale Fire District outside Sisters is once again seeking a property tax increase on the May ballot for crucial added staffing, after a larger money measure failed in 2021.
Measure 9-146 is slimmed down, but still aims at raising the tax rate for staffing and operations from $1.09 per $1000 of assessed value. That rate has remained unchanged in the district since 1997.
Cloverdale Fire Chief Thad Olsen told NewsChannel 21 in March, "The neighboring agencies around us have far greater tax rates, in excess of $3 per $1,000."
According to Cloverdale, the Sisters-Camp Sherman Fire District has a property tax rate of $2.92. Black Butte Ranch Fire's is $3.03 while Crooked River Ranch Fire's rate is $3.21, all nearly or more than double Cloverdale's total tax rate of $1.47, which includes a 38-cent increase a few years ago for just the purchase of equipment.
Olsen said despite the tax rate remaining largely unchanged, calls to the district more than doubled since 2008, going from 158 that year, to 370 in 2021.
Without more resources, Olsen said that's unsustainable.
"And we actually have less staffing now than we did in 2008," he said.
The measure on the May 2021 ballot called for a tax rate increase of $1.35. But the levy didn't have unanimous support from volunteers like Matt Cyrus.
"I felt it was too much and wasn't necessary for what the district needs," said Cyrus, a longtime volunteer captain with the fire district.
That measure failed by a 70 to 30 percent margin.
"We went back to the drawing board," Olsen said.
The 2021 measure intended to add two paid staff members and house an ambulance in the district. Ambulance service in Cloverdale is currently provided by the Sisters-Camp Sherman department.
"It was a significantly increased ask that we had last year," Cloverdale Board of Directors member Cindy Kettering said. "This year, we pared it down to what our most critical needs are."
The most critical need: staffing.
"We need two more staff," longtime volunteer Rex Parks Sr. said. "Paid staff to make sure we've got enough people here at all times for every time we have an apparatus go out of this bay."
The new levy calls for a 69 cent tax rate increase to add just that: two firefighter-medics, doubling the department's current paid staff.
"It's a number and and an ask that makes sense and is necessary," Cyrus said.
The levy would allow the station to be staffed 24/7, eliminating situations when a volunteer is called in from home to respond, which takes precious time.
"Eight to 12 minutes, when you're having an emergency, be it a breathing problem, a car accident or a brush fire, can spread rapidly," Olsen said.
Cyrus said this tax levy is one 100 percent of the volunteers can support, and that was echoed by Cloverdale Volunteer Firefighters Association President Alan Smoke.
"This particular levy, I believe personally, is the minimum requirement," Smoke said.
The two additional staff also would cut down on hours each one spends training volunteers.
"Each time we go out to somebody's home, because we're seeing them on the worst day of their lives, most of the time, and we want to make sure we have people that can handle the scene," Parks Sr. said.
It's why Olsen said, this year, the levy's passage is critical.
"I honestly don't know how we're going to proceed forward as a fire district if this levy fails," he said. "We are at that breaking point."