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Election 2018

Applegate fire district seeks levy increase

A tax levy for Applegate Rural Fire District 9 on the Nov. 6 ballot would keep a staff of seven full-timers and maintain a response time of three minutes, fire officials say.

The levy also would help the district extend more training for volunteers and create a substation at the west end of the service district, they say.

An operating levy of 92 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value currently funds one-third of the operation of the district’s seven stations and personnel.

If the new levy is approved, a new rate of $1.05 per $1,000 would be assessed from 2019 to 2024.

Tax levies have been a regular part of doing business for the rural district since the late 1990s, when officials expressed a need for more staffing in order to improve response times for medical, fire and other emergency calls.

A levy of $1 per $1,000 of assessed value was approved by voters in 1998 in order to provide 24-hour staffing at the headquarters in Ruch. Since then, voters have approved levies every five years to maintain staffing levels and help recruit, train and retain volunteer firefighters.

Rob Underwood, owner of Pit Stop Coffee in Ruch and a 26-year volunteer for the district before retiring in April, said he could vouch for the frugality of the district and hoped voters would support the increase.

The proposed increase would generate an additional $84,000 per year to cover some needed expenses.

“They’re basically just asking for a continuation of what people are already paying for now and to include a 13-cent increase to continue the current level of service. It amounts to them asking for about $26 bucks or so a year,” Underwood said.

“These guys aren’t trying to compete and be a big agency. They’re just trying to provide a public service. These are good guys. A lot of them could go to bigger districts and make a lot more, but they’re here because they love the district and they love what they do.”

District Chief Mike McLaughlin said the district would see a reduction in service levels and response times without the levy.

“Our levy right now supports our three paid captains and provides for recruiting and training of volunteers,” he said. “The increase would allow us to put a modular home at the west end of the district to attract more volunteers and have a potential location for them to live, and it would allow us to have a program in place where we can utilize students and reserves to work out of that facility and to get an engine on the road a lot quicker.”

“All I can state are the facts. If the levy does not pass, what does it mean? It means we lose a third of our operating budget, which means we would not be able to operate at current levels of service.”

Rex Garoutte, Craig Amann and Rich Halsted submitted an argument opposing the levy in the Voters’ Pamphlet. They said Applegate Fire District’s tax rate, which totals $2.60 per $1,000 of assessed value, is already higher than surrounding districts. Residents in Josephine County pay a rate of $1.75 for Rural Metro and $1.70 for Williams, they said.

Reach freelance writer Buffy Pollock at buffyp76@yahoo.com.

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