Cannon Beach fire levy fails

Cannon Beach Fire Chief Matt Benedict makes the rounds of the garage doing routine maintenance and checking gear.

A local option fire chief levy for the Cannon Beach Rural Fire Protection District failed Tuesday night.

If this were a regular election, the five-year levy, which pays for the chief’s salary, vehicles, administrative costs and supplies, would have passed 67 percent to 32 percent. But during a special election, a measure can only pass if there is at least 50 percent voter turnout.

Only 38 percent — 498 out of the district’s 1,300 voters — cast ballots, according to unofficial county results.

The levy would have raised the tax rate to $0.19 per thousand of assessed property value, up from an average $0.14 voted in five years ago. At the new rate, a homeowner would pay $95 a year on a $500,000 house.

Between 2019 to 2024, the levy was estimated to bring the district about $1.2 million. The increase was designed to account for growing costs associated with the position, such as rising health care and PERS rates, Fire Chief Matt Benedict said.

While disappointing, Benedict said the results were encouraging and the district plans to put the same levy on the November ballot, where the 50 percent voter turnout rule will no longer be an issue.

“We will continue to educate more people about the levy before November,” Benedict said. “It’s a pretty decent margin but we won’t take this for granted.”

The board decided to take a chance at a special election earlier this year out of fear that voters would have “tax fatigue” from multiple levies and bonds on the ballot in November.

“We thought in a small community like this we could see a bigger turnout with only one thing on the ballot,” Benedict said. “It turns out we were wrong in this case. But you never know unless you try.”

If the levy fails again in November, Benedict said the district has about a year’s worth of contingency funds that would pay for his position until the district could get the levy on the ballot again. Failing to renew this levy again would cut off the district’s only funding mechanism to pay for a fire chief, leaving the board with the choice of finding a new way to fund the position, to make cuts in other areas of the general fund to pay for it, or to forego the position altogether, Benedict said.

“We’re already on a shoestring budget, so we’d have to get creative and look at our priorities if this doesn’t pass,” he said.

Now that the levy will compete against the county’s jail bond and marijuana tax on the ballot, Benedict hopes the work the district has already done to educate voters about the issues will carry forward as an advantage in November.

“It’s always a threat, having competition, never knowing who is going to vote for what,” Benedict said. “All we can do is educate. (Voters) are going to have to make that choice on what they are going to support.”