No tax hike for Cannon Beach fire

Checking equipment to ensure it is in working order is a daily task at the Cannon Beach fire department.

The Cannon Beach Rural Fire Protection District will not propose a tax increase on this year’s fire chief levy to pay for firefighter paramedics.

Residents will vote in May whether to renew the levy that pays for the fire chief’s salary, expenses and training at the rate of $0.1488 per thousand of assessed property. This rate will again bring in about $141,469 to the fire district over five years.

Fire Chief Matt Benedict had suggested increasing the rate up to $0.35 per thousand of assessed property and modifying the fire chief’s levy into an operational one to allow funding for two firefighter paramedics.

But after a month of discussion, the fire district board came to a consensus that voters were unlikely to pass another tax increase after passing the $99.7 million bond in 2016 for the new Seaside school campus. While the rate will remain the same, the board did vote to modify the levy so that revenue can be used for all operational and staffing needs, rather than just costs associated with the fire chief.

“I think wording is important,” said board member Bob Cerelli. “This shows we have more options for this money that can be helpful with the overall needs of the district.”

Modifying the levy also helps pave the way to propose an increase in the future, Benedict said, after the fire district has more time to educate the community about the reasons for a higher property tax bill.

It will also allow the district to consolidate the budgeting process and open up funds for more general maintenance and supplies, Benedict said.

The vote was unanimous, but some board members had concerns that changing the name without changing the rate could cause confusion among voters.

“I’m concerned about changing the wording. With all these bond issues out, I don’t want people to get confused. The most important thing is to continue with paying for a fire chief with this levy,” board member Garry Smith said.

If residents do not vote to renew the levy, the fire chief would be paid out of reserves for a year before the board either proposed another ballot measure to fund his position or found alternate funding.

Overall, Benedict said considering rate increases for the levy is just putting a bandage on a larger, long-term funding issue with the fire district.

Benedict is suggesting the board consolidate with other nearby fire districts to be more cost-efficient. If done correctly, he argues, reforming the district will make the department less reliant on bonds and levies. Cannon Beach has already started working with nearby Hamlet Fire District by doing combined training.

“There’s more efficiency. Better emergency response, better training, more efficient operations,” Benedict said. “It’s a better bang for your buck. When you join together, it will decrease response times and consolidate training. Instead of paying for two fire chiefs, you have one. You don’t need two fire marshals.”

But reforming a fire district is a lengthy and complicated process that would not come to fruition until the distant future, Benedict said. Until then, board members held a workshop this week to discuss other long-term funding options to address issues like volunteer firefighter shortages and limited funds for aging equipment.

“All of the other districts I talk to face the same issues. They need money, and people don’t want to pay more taxes,” said board member Mark Mekenas. “We need to sit down and talk about what we need to do in the long run, otherwise, what kind of future do we have here? Small increases can help with some additional funds, but down the road? My God, we really have got to do something.”

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