PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — As wildfires become more frequent in Oregon, one of the state’s largest fire districts says they are fighting to maintain their front lines amid funding concerns.
While the Clackamas Fire District is clear their proposed new levy will cost residents, with wildfire danger only growing, the district says they believe levy funding is the best way to support their firefighters on the front lines.
With wildfire season widening in Oregon, Clackamas Fire, as one of the region’s largest responders, says they are concerned about their ability to maintain that response amid minimal resources and increasing demands.
“It makes it hard to juggle those responses when you have minimal staffing, and those resources are kind of limited,” said Clackamas Fire District Pubic Information Officer Izak Hamilton
Hamilton says the district is exploring a levy option to fund staffing and bring the district back in alignment with national standards.
The district also wants the levy to fund alternative responses, to help free up larger equipment for the most serious calls, and wildfire responses — an issue Hamilton says is not going away anytime soon.
“Wildfires spread so quickly. It’s all about how quickly you can get a ton of man power there to keep it from spreading. So realistically, that’s our goal. We want to keep our crews ready to respond and with the resources that they need,” he said.
As an independent district, Clackamas Fire doesn’t operate on a levy like Portland Fire and other departments. That means, despite being one of the state’s busiest fire districts, the team is primarily funded by property taxes and grants, but lately, they say that hasn’t been enough.
“As it stands, our permanent tax rate simply cannot keep up with the increased and diversified needs of our communities. This funding gap has led to persistent staffing challenges including the inability to maintain coverage at several rural fire stations,” said Clackamas Fie Chief Nick Browne.
“The levy that we’re asking for comes out to 52 cents per $1,000 of assessed value in a property. So it’s not the actual or ‘real value,’ it’s the lower one, and that would give us the $14.5 million to fund and make what we’re looking for work,” added Hamilton.
For the typical homeowner, Clackamas Fire says that amount works out to roughly $138 per year. And while the district says they understand it’s a tough time to ask residents to dig into their pockets, Hamilton argues there is no price tag on safety.
“We’re not salesmen that are trying to come in and just take money. We’ve been operating on a minimal budget for the longest time. And I really think that our communities would agree Clackamas Fire has been a great steward of the resources that we have. But we’ve come to the point where it’s getting really hard to make that work,” he said.