Cannon Beach Rural Fire Protection District board members delayed a vote Jan. 15 whether to put a modified levy on the May ballot that would raise property taxes, citing concerns that voters would not support a tax increase.
The change would more than double the rate to $0.35 per thousand of assessed property, up from $0.1488. It’s a difference between paying roughly $14 a year on a $100,000 home versus paying $35.
The fire district would bring in about $385,000 a year, compared to the $141,469 since voters last approved the levy in 2013. Fire Chief Matt Benedict proposed modifying the levy, which is put up for a vote every five years and pays for the salary, benefits and other costs of the fire chief, into an operational levy to allow funding for two firefighter paramedics.
Funding the positions would help the district respond to a growing number of medical calls in an area where firefighters are often first on scene before ambulances can arrive, Benedict said. Funding would also help address the decline in volunteer firefighter recruitment and a backlog of fire inspections.
But board members were weary of introducing a tax increase so soon after voters approved a $99.7 million bond in 2016 to relocate Seaside schools. Board member Garry Smith said he feared voters may have “tax fatigue.”
“We have to be careful with how we sell this to the public if we are going to ask them to pay a few more hundred dollars a year on their property,” Smith said. “We should explore other avenues before jumping into taxes.”
Board members agreed that the needs of the fire district have outgrown the revenue generated from the tax. But some said more research should be done into the problems Benedict described before asking voters to pay more.
“What’s the value in rushing to put this out in May?” said board member Mark Morgans., adding he wants to see more study done on how often paramedic services would be needed from local firefighters. “We need to take a look at how frequently that occurs.”
Smith agreed more surveys to gauge public interest and education about the issues should be done. He also suggested the district start looking at merging with neighboring districts as a way to share resources and cut costs.
Board member Mark Mekenas said he would prefer the district look at working with the city to raise the lodging tax or institute a food and beverage tax.
“We want to get the people who use the services to pay for it,” Mekenas said, referring to the times of year where a large influx of tourists lead to higher call volumes. “Eventually we need to get more money. But how we do it? That’s the tap dance we’ll have to do to figure it out.”
Board members Sharon Clyde and Bob Cerelli agreed, but had doubts about the city’s cooperation.
“We all want the best help we can get, but we only have ‘x’ amount of dollars to do it,” Clyde said. “Nothing would surprise me more than getting money from the city.”
Benedict understands the concerns of the board, and will continue to research all possible funding sources, he said.
The board will revisit the decision on how to approach the levy in February. If they decide not to approve the version with the rate increase, Benedict said the district still has the option to modify the original fire chief levy into an operational one while keeping the existing rate. Instead of the revenue only paying for fire chief-related items, this would simplify the budget process and allow the district to spend the money on all general operations, Benedict said.
“I want to make sure research is done, there is public input and to make sure we are transparent to our citizens,” he said.