Phoenix to pursue outside fire protection

PHOENIX — City Council members unanimously approved a resolution Monday to request voter approval in March to be annexed into Jackson County Fire District No. 5.

The decision comes after months of deliberation over budget woes and, more recently, talks of reducing fire protection costs while ensuring adequate fire protection for residents and security for city fire personnel.

The city wants Dist. 5 to hire Phoenix firefighters and either buy or lease the city's fire station on Second Street. Phoenix has fewer than a dozen permanent and volunteer firefighters.

Monday's resolution to be annexed will be followed tonight by Fire Dist. 5 officials considering the city's proposal.

For Phoenix residents to officially become part of the fire protection district, simultaneous elections must be held in which members of the district — and residents — approve expansion of the service district.

Mayor Carlos DeBritto called Monday's decision the next logical step in tackling the city's financial concerns.

"I think we're making good progress," DeBritto said.

"All indications are that District 5 is receptive. We just have to work out the details of how much, when, what to do with equipment, that sort of thing. We're trying to make sure, basically, that service levels remain unchanged for citizens."

Discussions regarding the outsourcing of fire protection came about in recent months as one of a host of issues being reviewed by the advisory committee to gain financial stability for the cash-strapped town.

Interim City Manager Joe Wrabek estimated last week that annexing into a nearby rural fire district would save the city about $20,000 in the first year and over $100,000 during the second.

Service proposals have been solicited in recent weeks from the Medford Rural Fire Protection District, which operates ourside the Medford city limits and from District 5, which covers the unincorporated areas of south Jackson County. Medford rural declined to make an offer because of Phoenix's financial problems.

A comparison chart Monday showed costs for fire protection by the city (under a current levy and with a larger levy) and with the two rural districts.

Wrabek explained that the city's public safety levy was only funding half as much as it needed to provide fire protection. An adequate levy would cost $4.50 (per $1,000 property value) while service via District 5, the council's preference, would cost $3.19 per $1,000.

Following Monday's decision, Wrabek said, "This buys us some hopefully long-term security. We have two problems and I don't want people to forget we have two problems. We have a hemorrhaging problem and a transfusion problem."

He added, "We've fixed the hemorrhaging problem with this"¦ but we still need $234,000 by July 1. That's the amount the city is going to be short its general fund"¦ This was the year the city ate its cash and we have to figure out where to get it back."

The council also approved contracting with retired Fire Chief Randy Iverson to help iron out details of a short-term contract with Fire District 5, before voters are asked to decide on the annexation.

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