Jacksonville council recall campaign is justified

In a recent editorial, the Mail Tribune did not approve of a recall initiative targeting the mayor of Jacksonville and two council members. The "Jeer" from the Tribune omitted a vital fact. The council and mayor voted in June to approve a higher water bill surcharge after the voters had turned down an increase in that detested tax just a month before. In other words, their own representatives determined the people had no clue. Not surprisingly, Jacksonville people are puzzled and irritated by this judgment.

I am an ex-firefighter and station captain for Illinois Valley Rural. I also completed a National Fire Academy course in incident management in Maryland and then trained the IV Rural force in that system.

Jacksonville has gotten itself in a pickle and the events that led to this are complicated. However, suffice it to say, it finds itself today with a fire department of seven paid staff and a budget of $541,000 to serve 1,450 households. In short, it has a boutique department, standing alone in a county where other rural communities are covered by fire districts.

Moreover, this luxury fire service is funded by an off-budget "reserve fund" with no cap on it. The City Council can, at its whim, raise the surcharge as they just did. The town has struggled with various alternatives but the upshot has been a slide into the morass we have today — much of the impetus driven by self-interested elitists who want what they had before they chose God's country.

The people have been told, for example, that The National Fire Protection Association has the force of law. This wholly advisory body, heavily influenced by insurance companies and fire equipment manufacturers, itself states clearly: "NFPA standards are not law nor do they hold the authority of government regulatory standards." Yet that didn't stop the council from, apparently, cherry-picking NFPA recommendations to paint a picture of dire need for little old Jacksonville.

In short, citizens have been frightened without good reason. Jacksonville has mutual-aid agreements with every fire district in Jackson County and is covered by Mercy Flights and the Oregon Department of Forestry. In the recent Oak Knoll fire, ODF engines were on scene two minutes after the first 9-1-1 call. The practice is called "staging," and both Mercy Flights and ODF routinely do this to have equipment and personnel spotted in locations far from their actual stations.

Yet Jacksonville has been told that, somehow, having their own very expensive fire department makes it more likely to preserve their lives or property. It's time to take a deep breath. It is time for the city to look at its revenue stream and take citizens' advice about priorities — not simply dictate those priorities.

Moreover, the citizens have already spoken. They do not want a bloated, off-budget item. Most want something like Burns/Hines Rural Fire Department: one paid chief and 20 volunteers to cover the same number of citizens Jacksonville has. Elitists in Jacksonville will blanch at the word "rural," but the fact is they have deliberately chosen this bucolic town and its environs. Why did they pick this community and then try to gussy it up on the backs of hard-working people?

Of course they will bring up the ancient wheeze that volunteers can't be found hereabouts. Perhaps they themselves don't fancy putting down their pinot noir and rushing to an emergency. On the other hand, there are plenty of sturdy Jacksonville men and women who would serve if they were recruited, encouraged, and supported.

These are the sorts of folks of all income levels and backgrounds who, like the many dozens of Applegate volunteers, would like to be trained, would like to serve, and would like a sense of accomplishment. However, Jacksonville is now losing its volunteers — half have left, leaving perhaps 11. This is usual when departments pack on paid personnel. Why would a paid union staff want to bother with volunteers? And that cuts both ways.

Why a recall? Our small family has lived in Southern Oregon for almost three decades and in Jacksonville for one. We've watched local politics and seen elected representative duck responsibility, take the path of least resistance and sock it to the taxpayer. Many don't seem to realize it is our money they are flinging around.

A recall is a blunt instrument and isn't meant to be used carelessly or frequently. However, the people are fed up and want action. Now.

Hubert Smith lives in Jacksonville.

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