Vernonia citizens will have a chance to vote on two measures in the upcoming election that would support the Vernonia Rural Fire Protection District. The Fire District has placed Measure 5-245, a ten year bond for the purchase of a new fire engine, and Measure 5-246, a five year levy to fund a training officer for the district. According to Vernonia Fire Chief Dean Smith, both Measures are vital for helping local fire fighters continue to provide quality service to the community. The following is an excerpt from a recent conversation Vernonia’s Voice had with Chief Smith.
Vernonia’s Voice: Why are both these Measures so important for the Fire District?
Chief Smith: The operating levy, Measure 5-264, is important because I’m the only paid responder we have. I’m also paid to be an administrator. The duties that are required within a fire district and the tasks that need to be managed are always increasing and so is the amount of training our volunteers are required to receive and stay current on. There is always something else that needs to be taken care of.
Our District is responding to a record number of calls now and our volunteer levels have dropped to as low as I’ve ever seen them. We’re at a point where our district needs to have another body in here that can take some of these tasks that need to be managed.
What we need is a Training Captain that can be dedicated to oversight and look at all the aspects of our training program and make sure we’re covering and tracking all the certification for our volunteers and keeping their files up to date. We need to make sure we’re meeting the needs and addressing the aspirations of our volunteers, so that we can see where they want to go and assist them in getting there. It’s become imperative—we need another body here. We can’t continue giving the level of service if we don’t.
Measure 5-245 is a bond for equipment. We recently purchased a used engine from Banks for a heck of a deal. The last bond we put out was in 2000 and it matured and was paid off in 2010. In reality the District should have immediately put out another bond.
VV: Why is it so important to have a paid Training Officer?
CS: We’ve used volunteers in that role for a long time. The average time span that a volunteer lasts in that role is about three years. And every training officer that we’ve had since I’ve been here, has not only stepped down from training, they’ve resigned from the department completely. They get so burned out because there is so much extra work. And the worst part is, the people we give the training responsibility to are usually some of our best volunteers and then we end up losing them. They’re going to their regular jobs for forty hours a week and then they are volunteering here and then putting in all this extra work. Read More
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