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. Read More
The upcoming May 19 election will offer local voters the chance to elect representatives to the Vernonia School Board, The Vernonia Rural Fire Protection District, the Mist-Birkenfeld Fire District and the Columbia County 9-1-1 Communications District. There are also three ballot Measures for voters consideration.
Ballot Measure 5-243 is a county wide measure that would increase the Natural Resources Depletion Fee by thirty-five cents ($.35) per ton to a total of fifty cents ($.50) per ton. The current fee primarily provides revenue for county roads. The increase is intended to cover the costs to the infrastructure of Columbia County that result from mining activities. The additional fees would be used as follows:
• Ten cents ($.10) for road improvements and maintenance of existing roads and bridges.
• Twenty-five cents ($.25) for Columbia County Rider Transportation.
The initiative requires that none of the proposed increased funds could be used for other county general fund purposes.
Measures 5-245 and 5-246 would raise funds for the Vernonia Rural Fire Protection District. Measure 5-245 is a ten year bond for the purchase of fire apparatus and is estimated to cost taxpayers an average of $0.2621 per thousand of assessed value each year. For the owner of a home or property owner, the estimated annual average cost would be $26.21 per $100,000 of taxable assessed value. Measure 5-246 is a five year levy which would fund the salary and benefits package of a Training Captain. This person would be responsible for the District’s training program and responding to incidents. This measure is estimated to cost taxpayers an average of $0.32 per thousand of assessed value each year. For the owner of a home or property the estimated annual average cost would be $32 per $100,000 of taxable assessed value. Read More
Moody’s Investors Service (dated 9-10-14) affirmed Columbia County’s general obligation bond rating at Aa3. This credit rating means “high quality and very low credit risk, Prime-1, best ability to repay short term debt.” In doing so, they have also removed the “negative” outlook.
Moody’s cites Columbia County’s strengths as: “Moderate-sized tax base that experienced real market value growth in 2014” and “willingness on the part of management to make expenditure cuts.” They further expected the county to experience “positive financial operations moving forward.”
Moody’s cites challenges as: “Uncertainty regarding receipt of federal revenues” (referring to the historic O&C federal revenues the County has depended on to provide basic services) and an “elevated pension burden.”
This positive financial news comes on the heels of Columbia County’s Finance Department being given The Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting Award by the Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada (GFOA) for its comprehensive annual financial report (CAFR).
This program was initiated in 1945 to encourage and assist local governments in the United States and Canada to “go beyond the minimum requirements of generally accepted accounting principles” and prepare full and comprehensive financial reports that show transparency and full disclosure.
Over eighty community leaders were in attendance in Clatskanie for a presentation given by NW Innovation Works, LLC on Tuesday, May 6. The presentation focused on the major industrial project the corporation is planning at Port Westward, about seven miles from Clatskanie on the Columbia River. The event was hosted by the Columbia County Economic Team at the recently re-opened Humps Restaurant.
NW Innovation Works, a multi-national partnership, is currently looking to develop plants in three locations in Oregon and Washington: Port Westward, Port of Kalama and the Port of Tacoma.
State Senator Betsy Johnson greets executives from NW Innovation Works at Hump’s restaurant in Clatskanie.
NW Innovation Works will invest one billion dollars at each plant and will produce methanol from natural gas which will be shipped to Asia – including China – where it will be used to produce the key compound employed in the manufacturing of everything from plastic water bottles, cell phone cases, nylon carpets and more.
Each new plant will provide 1000 jobs during construction, along with 120 permanent family wage jobs once the initial phase in completed. During a planned second phase a second plant will be constructed which will double the size of each complex. Read More
A few changes have been made to Columbia County dog license fees for 2014, including an increase in the licensing fee to $15. This is the first increase in licensing fees in more than 8 years. The fee for unfixed dogs and senior citizen remains the same.
Dog licenses may now only be obtained by contacting the County Clerk’s desk at the Columbia County Court House, 230 Strand St., Saint Helens, Oregon 97051. License applications may be downloaded from the sheriff’s web site (http://www.co.columbia.or.us/sheriff/images/CCSOanimalcontrol/cc_doglicenseform.pdf) and mailed to the clerk with proof of rabies vaccinations and the appropriate fees. Licenses issued after March 10 will be consider late and assessed a $25 late fee.
ALL dogs residing in the State of Oregon are required to be vaccinated for rabies–a deadly disease for both humans and dogs. State law also requires dogs to be licensed in the County in which they reside. The license requirement applies to all dogs, whether or not the dog is an inside or outside dog. The fees collected from the licensing of dogs provides for County services directly related to dog issues. The fees also provide for the sheltering of lost, abandoned and/or neglected animals. Read More
Columbia County voters have rejected Measure 5-234, the Levy for Jail Operations.
With 100% of precincts counted, the unofficial results from the Special Election on Tuesday November 5 was 41.70% in support of the levy and 58.30% against.
“On one hand, we are disappointed tonight in the results of the election, on the other hand, the voters have clearly made their collective will known,” said Columbia county Sheriff Jeff Dickerson. “This result brings us to decision time at the County, and I will be meeting as soon as possible with the Board of Commissioners to chart our path forward. Thank you to all who continue to support our mission—whether or not you voted or didn’t vote for this levy. We are here to serve at your pleasure, and will continue to do the best we can with the resources committed to our care.”
Measure 5-234 was the only item on the ballot for Columbia County voters. Total voter turnout was 42.7 %.
Oregon Health Authority recently released the 2013 County Tobacco Factsheets, and Columbia County shows improvement compared to the 2011 Factsheet.
The percentage of teens who smoke is down, especially for 8th graders. In Columbia County 5 percent of 8th graders smoke (state rate is 6 percent) and 17 percent of 11th graders (state rate is 12 percent). This is a decrease of 6 percent among 8th graders and a 3 percent decrease among 11th graders from 2011.
The number of babies born to smoking mothers has also decreased from 20 percent in 2011 to 18 percent in 2013. “In Oregon four out of five smokers want to quit, but struggle to break the addiction” said Ashley Baggett, Tobacco Prevention & Education Coordinator. In Columbia County the quit attempts are up from 37 percent to 41 percent.
There is still a long way to go as the number of adults who smoke has risen from 6,318 in 2011 to 6,930 in 2013. However the trend is still lower when compared to the 7,143 people who smoked in 2009. Tobacco remains the number one preventable cause of death. Read More
Russ Clark, the new Veterans Service Officer for Columbia County has been on the job for a little over three months. And he is looking for more vets to help.
Clark, who has an office at the Community Action Team building at 125 N. 17th Street in St. Helens, has been doing monthly outreach visits to Vernonia, Clatskanie and Rainier in an effort to reach more veterans.
“I’m not seeing as many clients as I had anticipated, to be quite honest,” said Clark during his most recent visit to the Vernonia community on August 6th. “That is one of the reasons I want to do these outreaches-to try to get out into the communities to see more clients.”
Clark provides services for veterans, claimants and survivors. He helps veterans get enrolled into the VA health system. He also assists veterans who were injured while in the service and have a current disability related to that injury. Clark helps them submit their claim and through the benefits process. Clark also helps veterans who may be eligible to receive a VA pension. “VA pensions are usually for veterans who, for whatever circumstances, are barely making it in the world,” says Clark. “The idea of the pension is to provide them with some assistance to allow them to survive and live.” Clark also helps veterans access the many education benefits that are available to them. Read More
CC Rider Transportation announced its partnership with First Transit, a leading provider of transit management and contracting solutions. First Transit will begin managing driver operations of the county’s fixed route and dial-a-ride services on July 1, 2013, and aims to bring attention to customer service, system development and the overall CC Rider experience, particularly in light of the recent service reductions that took effect on April 1, 2013.
First Transit’s onsite Manager Joshua Fully commented, “First Transit looks forward to working with Columbia County staff as a partner in providing quality public transit services. We keep our customers at the heart of everything we do and are honored to provide service to the citizens of Columbia County.” First Transit looks forward to fulfilling the high standards of safety and service that Columbia County residents expect and deserve. Read More