PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – More calls and a stretched budget have the Clackamas Fire District turning to voters in the May 2023 election, asking them to consider a levy that the district says would add 62 firefighters and allow crews to better respond to wildfires and medical calls.
Measure 3-594 would charge property owners in the Clackamas Fire District $0.52 per $1,000 of assessed property value. According to the county, for a home with an assessed value of $266,018, the measure would cost the owner $138 per year.
Unlike Portland Fire and Rescue, Clackamas Fire District has not operated on a levy before. Instead, it relied on taxes and grants, but those no longer cover the staffing the district needs, according to Nathan Hon, the secretary and communication director for the Professional Firefighters of Clackamas County union, also known as Local 1159.
National standards call four four fire crew members to staff a firefighting vehicle. In the Clackamas Fire District, only four of their 19 crew vehicles have four people. The rest are understaffed.
Faced with a funding shortfall in 2022, the Clackamas Fire District decided to reduce its daily staffing for the first time in 2008.
Hon said the shortfall is due to a number of reasons, including inflation and the cost of materials, and the increasing number of medical calls firefighters have had to respond to.
He blames the increased medical calls on the fact that people have had to wait for long periods of time to get appointments with their doctor.
“We have never had to put out a levy before, Hon said. “We’re at a point where if the citizens are continuing to ask for these services, we also want to ask them to invest in their fire department, so that we can provide the services that they’re asking for.”
If passed, the levy would begin in July 2023, at the start of the fiscal year. In the first fiscal year, the county predicts it will collect more than $13.8 million and the revenue is expected to increase every year after that.
In addition to funding 62 firefighter positions, the levy would allow Clackamas Fire District to hire full-time staff at two rural fire stations: the Logan station in Oregon City and the Clarkes station in Beavercreek.
The fire district believes better staffing at these stations could allow crews to reach small wildfires quickly and extinguish them before they grow.
The levy would also fund quick response vehicles, which would respond to the growing number of medical calls in the district. These pickup trucks or SUVs would transport two paramedics to calls and would carry all the equipment that a fire engine does, which means fire engines wouldn’t need to respond to as many medical calls.
“Fire engines, fire trucks, heavy fire apparatus, won’t stop going to medical calls. They’ll just be available to run the more critical emergencies, where these quick response vehicles will pick up those lower-level [calls],” Hon said.
He said it was important to the fire district that this levy benefitted urban areas, rural areas and the overall increased need for medical emergency services.
When drafting the levy, the fire district assembled a future funding task force made of a fire district representative, a labor union representative, a district board member and members of communities in the district.
Clackamas Fire District felt it was necessary to get as much input as they could and feel that the measure on the ballot is something that provides fair benefit to everyone.
Since the levy was announced, Clackamas Fire District has held about a dozen information sessions. Hon said one of the most common concerns he’s heard from the community is about the cost. Some people say they can’t afford the additional expense.
Hon said the results from Election Day will determine how most community members feel about the investment.
“We’re going to be watching the polls and we’ll let the citizens speak for what they can’t afford or if they want to invest in their fire department,” he said.
If the levy does not pass, the staffing restrictions implemented in 2022 will remain in place and further staffing and operational reductions may be required, the district said.