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
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 %.
On November 5, Columbia County residents will be asked to vote in a special election. On that ballot will be Measure 5-234 which proposes a tax levy to raise funds for operation of the Columbia County Jail.
In 1998 Columbia County voters approved funding for the construction of a new jail with a 225 bed capacity. The jail had no corresponding funding for operations. The county has depended on renting beds space to the federal government which is an undependable source of revenue.
The County meanwhile has had to cut bed space they fund due to a General Fund deficit, leading to space shortages and the early release of prisoners. Right now Columbia County is only able to fund 25 beds in their own jail.
The proposed levy of $0.5797/per $1,000 of assessed value would provide funding to restore 75 beds for local use as well as funding additional staff for the jail.
Columbia County residents have been notoriously unwilling in the recent past to support funding for the Sheriff’s Department, twice rejecting levies that would have provided additional patrols on our county roads. This levy is somewhat different as it directly impacts city police as well. Read More
Businesses are now voicing their support for Measure 5-234, which will be on the ballot in Columbia County this November. Three chambers of commerce in the county have decided to endorse the campaign to fund the jail for four years with 100 local beds.
Members of the South County Chamber, Clatskanie Chamber and Rainer Chamber include hundreds of businesses with a presence in the area. Both national companies and Mom-and-Pop shops are represented by these chamber organizations.
“Local businesses understand the need for a jail in the area. With a rash of burglaries in the area and no money to keep the offenders in jail when caught, we feel very vulnerable,” stated Chris Dahlgren, President of the Clatskanie Chamber and Owner of Discounts and Deals. “Having criminals released on the streets with no threat of punishment could easily be detrimental to businesses in the area. Increased theft and drug use will not bode well for my company and the other businesses in the county. We are willing to slightly increase our property taxes, if it means protection for our establishment and our community.” Read More