Vernonia Fire District Places Two Measures on May Ballot

The Vernonia Rural Fire Protection District has filed two ballot measures with the Columbia County Elections Office to be placed on the May 19, 2015 election ballot.

One measure is  a five year levy for Emergency Services Training and Operations.  This measure would provide funding for the District to hire a Training Captain who would be responsible for operation of  the District training program.  The Training Captain would also respond to incidents during their work shift, thereby increasing daytime response personnel within the District.  This levy would cost taxpayers an estimated $0.32 per thousand of assessed value each year.  The estimated annual average cost would be $32 per $100,000 of taxable assessed value.

The second measure is  a General Obligation Bond and would raise funds to purchase and upgrade fire apparatus and equipment.  The bonds would mature no later than ten years from date of issuance and is estimated to cost taxpayers an average of $0.2621 per thousand of assessed value each year.  The estimated annual average cost for property owners would be $26.21 per $100,000 of assessed value.

Fire Chief Dean Smith is the District’s administrator and only paid responder; all other emergency responders are volunteers.  Smith says his administrative duties are continually expanding and says the District is reaching a breaking point. He says the mandatory training requirements and time commitment for volunteers,  the continually increasing volume of calls the District receives, and the  outside priorities like family, work and school are creating a perfect storm that makes volunteer recruitment and retention extremely difficult.  With only eleven current volunteers, a number Smith says is as low as he’s ever seen it, Smith says the ability of the District to continue to provide the current level of service is impossible.

Volunteers from the Vernonia Fire District responded  to a structure fire on March 25.  Firefighters from Mist-Birkenfeld and Banks assisted with the call.

Volunteers from the Vernonia Fire District responded
to a structure fire on March 25. Firefighters from Mist-Birkenfeld and Banks assisted with the call.

“We’re at a point where the District has to have another body here that can take some of these tasks and manage them with oversight from myself,” explains Smith. “It’s become imperative.  We can’t continue to give the same level of service if we don’t.”

As an example, Smith noted that during the recent structure fire in town, Vernonia was only able to respond with one engine and only had one officer, two firefighters and one cadet available to respond.

“If we can get someone dedicated to the Training Captain position we can create a more stable and sustainable training program, and I believe we can only grow,”  says Smith.

Smith addressed the bond measure for the apparatus purchase,  saying the District’s equipment is mostly out of date and does not meet current safety standards or recommendations.  The bond would allow the District to purchase a brand new water tender/pumper  to replace the thirty-five year old, outdated one they currently are using.  Smith says the District last went out for a bond in 2000 which sunset in 2010 and used those funds to purchase their current first-out engine.  The recent purchase of a twenty year old engine from the Banks Fire District also provided an upgrade.  

“This bond allows us to begin to create a succession plan within our apparatus portion of the District, which we have to have,” says Smith.  “We’ve gotten well beyond where we should be.”

Smith says that ideally the District would have just tried to renew the 2000 bond in 2010, but circumstances in the community didn’t make that prudent.   “We were still recovering from the flood,” says Smith.

“We’ve consistently waited over the years,” said Smith.  “We held off because the City needed to do sewer upgrades.  We held off because of the flood.  We held off because the community needed to build new schools.  We’ve consistently taken a back seat and waited to ask for funds because we know the community is tight.  I feel the community gets a lot from us.  But we’re at a point where we don’t have a choice.”