Election ballots arrived in the mail this week and local voters are being asked to make a choice on three critical ballot measures. I am encouraging voters to support all three.
The Vernonia Rural Fire Protection District has placed two Measures on the ballot. Measure 5-245 is a ten year bond for the purchase of a badly needed, new fire engine and would cost taxpayers 26 cents per thousand of assessed property value. Measure 5-246 is a five year levy to fund the salary of a Training Captain to assist in the administration of the Department, mainly to organize the training of volunteers, as well as respond to calls when on duty. This would cost taxpayers 32 cents per thousand of assessed value.
The Vernonia Fire Department currently has one paid responder, Chief Dean Smith. According to Smith, volunteerism at the District is at an all time low and call volume is as high as it’s ever been. State requirements for volunteer training continue to increase. On top of that the VRFPD remains the lowest funded of any District in Columbia County.
Smith and the Vernonia Fire District are facing a perfect storm-a community that is too busy to volunteer, a limited training schedule to get the small number of volunteers they do have to meet state requirements, limited resources to fund operations and equipment, and not enough responders to answer the larger volume of calls they are receiving.
As Smith likes to point out, he and his small band of dedicated volunteers don’t just respond to fires. They assist the local ambulance service on EMS calls and also serve as the local rescue unit. They handle anything from extrications from motor vehicle accidents, to providing traffic control, to getting cats out of trees, and they have to be trained for all of them.
Many times only a small handful of volunteers are available to respond to a call and recently Smith had to head out on a call for a structure fire by himself. When they do respond, they sometimes have to worry whether their aging equipment will get them to the call and function properly when they arrive.
Protecting our community is the responsibility of each of us. We are lucky to have such a hard working and dedicated Chief in Dean Smith, as well as a group of volunteers who give up their valuable personal time to make themselves available to answer our call when we need help. If you are not able to be a volunteer then you need to consider doing your part by supporting the Fire District and the volunteers and help provide the resources they need to do the job we ask them to do.
Measure 5-243 is asking voters county wide to increase, by 35 cents per ton, the Natural Resources Depletion fee on gravel to fund road maintenance and the Columbia County Rider public transportation system. The fee currently sits at 15 cents and has not been raised in eighteen years.
This measure has been more difficult to gauge. Contrary to what some people would like you to believe, CCRider is a well used transit system, especially during commute times in the mornings and afternoons. Many people within our communities depend on it to get to work, school, or to doctor and other appointments. It has grown over recent decades from what was basically a taxi service for senior citizens to a full fledged transit service, serving the needs of a diverse client base. It provides a reliable and much needed service in our community.
Those opposing this fee have run a loud and visible campaign to convince voters to reject the fee increase. They say they will lose business and will have to lay off workers.
Whether those claims are true or not, I do know that without some sort of dedicated funding more cuts will be made to CCRider, drivers there will lose their jobs, and county residents will lose some of their transportation options.
While increasing a fee on one particular industry may not seem fair to some, the County Commissioners owe it to the hundreds of people who use CCRider every day to provide stable and dedicated funding to keep this important local transportation system fully operational. This fee increase will provide needed revenue and is currently the only option on the table.
Election Day is Tuesday, May 19, 2015. Ballots may be dropped at the Vernonia Public Library, 701 Weed Avenue by 8:00 PM.