WALDPORT — Voters within the Central Oregon Coast Fire District won’t be seeing a new equipment levy during the upcoming election, but they should expect a new operational levy on the ballot next May.
On Sept. 14, the board of Central Oregon Coast Fire & Rescue announced it had withdrawn its proposed 12-month equipment levy of 25 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value on properties within the district from the upcoming Nov. 2 election.
According to COCFR Public Information Officer Erich Knudson, the district chose to withdraw after staff realized they had mistakenly identified when the current equipment levy — at the same 25 cent rate — was set to expire.
The Lincoln County Clerk’s Office informed the district that instead of expiring at the end of the current budget year as assumed, the existing equipment levy will last until the end of the next budget year. Had the 12-month equipment levy gone through, taxpayers would have found themselves paying double for the year.
The district had planned to extend the equipment levy 12 months before replacing it with an operational levy at the same rate. Since the extension is no longer needed, the district now plans to wait until the May 2022 special election before putting anything new up for a vote.
The current equipment levy is only allowed to be put toward equipment purchases for the district, but with no major purchases expected for the next four years, the district’s biggest need at the moment is to fund more staff, which would require an operational levy instead.
“Right now, we have an equipment-only levy that has to be spent entirely on equipment within the next 12 months after we receive the money in November,” Knudson said. “That isn’t a bad thing, but currently we mostly need additional personnel, so we want to change it from an equipment only levy to an operational levy that will allow us to hire on at least one more firefighter.”
With six personnel currently employed by the district, Knudson said its hard to ensure at least two personnel are available at all times to staff the district’s fire trucks without also incurring large amounts of overtime.
“This would help us always guarantee we have at least two responders on a truck at all times, which is needed to ensure no one has to respond to a fire alone,” Knudson said. “This would also go a long way in lowering our overtime costs as we could have an additional person to put on a shift if someone else needs to call in sick or take some time off to go on vacation.”
In an attempt to help meet its staffing needs, COCFR Chief Jamie Mason brought multiple options to increase the levy before the COCFR Board of Directors during its monthly meeting in August, but the board wasn’t receptive to an increase at this time, shooting down both 6 and 23 cent increase proposals.
Mason said at that time that simply retaining the current 25 cent levy rate would allow the district to hire one additional staff member while keeping $25,000 annually for equipment, but a 6 cent increase would have generated another $25,000 for equipment. The 28 cent increase would have also provided that $50,000 for equipment, as well as a total of two new employees.
The board decided, however, it would be unwise to pursue an increase at this time, as it will be looking at a new bond measure within the next few years.
According to COCFR’s website, the district currently maintains an 82.09 cent per $1,000 assessed value permanent tax rate, as well as a $1.27 per $1,000 general levy.