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Late-August ballot measures headed to Black Butte Ranch RFPD and La Pine-area road district voters

(Adding video, comments from Black Butte deputy fire chief)

BLACK BUTTE RANCH, Ore. (KTVZ) – If you think the next election in Deschutes County is the Nov. 5 general election, the reality is: not exactly, as two money measures for specific locations will go before voters in mail ballots to be counted on Tuesday, August 27th.

The Black Butte Ranch Rural Fire Protection District is seeking a new five-year local option tax for fire and emergency operations. It would assess a property tax rate of $2 per $1,000 of assessed value, starting in 2025-26. That’s up 24 cents per $1,000 from the current levy, which that expires on June 30 of next year.

"This levy rate allows us to be able to have six paid firefighters, three captains and three firefighter-paramedics," said Deputy Fire Chief Jason Ellison, who's been with the Black Butte Ranch Rural Fire District for two years.

The levy rate increase from $1.76 to $2 for every $1,000 of assessed value averages about $18 a month for residents.

"Communities like Sisters, Bend, La Pine that have growth, and new commercial buildings, apartment buildings, residential-- they're able to get growth in their budgets," Ellison said Monday.

"But Black Butte is fully built out, and the only growth we get is through assessed value growth, as well as remodels and sometimes new construction. But we are very limited on the new construction and really limited to a 3% growth per year," the increase allowed under state law.

The rural fire district serves about 500 permanent residents, and because of the late-August vote, the levy also needs a 50% voter turnout to pass. 

"Being able to levy taxes for 1,500 homes, really, it's hard for us to be able to increase our funds, increase our balance, to be able to provide service," the fire official said

During the summer, the resort's population can reach as high as 5,000.

Ellison says the summers are the most difficult time of the year, as fire season begins. The fire crew helps the Forest Service, Sisters Camp-Sherman Fire District, and other statewide organizations. But they also train the next generation of firefighters, with free tuition and housing.

"We were kind of one of the top organizations in the Central Oregon region for pay in 2020. And now, we are at the bottom," Ellison said. "This levy is to think for the future, to make sure that we're able to recruit and retain great firefighters, to be able to serve our community."

The fire district’s permanent property tax rate covers less than half of the district’s costs, and the levy funds the rest.

Also, Deschutes County Special Road District No. 8 in La Pine will have a levy on the August ballot, proposing a $2.80 per $1,000 levy to put gravel on more than 11 miles of road, which haven't gotten that treatment in over 20 years.

Deschutes County Clerk Steve Dennison said there are four dates in each year that Oregon jurisdictions can call an election, in March, May, August and November.

There’s an extra hurdle for the March and August elections, in that the measure only passes if at least half the voters in that district return their ballots. That can be trickier in a late-summer time of travel and vacations.

The county's web page on the special election lays out deadlines, including most ballots hitting the mail August 7.

Dennison said the election could cost the districts about $2,000 to hold, but "if they were to call the election in November, the cost might even be higher."

"We bill jurisdictions based on the costs per voters, but a general election is typically more costly than any other elections we hold," the county clerk said, due to more labor and supply needs.

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Isabella Warren

Isabella Warren is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Isabellahere.


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