CANNON BEACH — The Cannon Beach Rural Fire Protection District board has decided to ask voters to approve a new tax levy in May.
The fire district, which serves Cannon Beach, Arch Cape, Cove Beach and Falcon Cove, had nearly 440 calls last year — a record number that has steadily increased over the years. With greater demand , the fire district has struggled to find ways to sustain operations.
The fire district has one of the lowest permanent tax rates in the county at 35 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. The permanent tax rate is set when a district is established, which leaves fire districts dependent on voters to approve levies and bonds for more funding.
Voters have approved a five-year levy to support the fire chief’s position for 19 cents per $1,000 of assessed value and a five-year bond for a ladder truck at 9 cents per $1,000 assessed value. If voters approve the new levy, total funding will increase from 63 cents per $1,000 of assessed value to 98 cents.
“The last thing I want to do is burden the citizens with more taxes, but in order to continue … to provide the services the community expects, this is what we have to do,” Fire Chief Marc Reckmann said.
The additional revenue will be used to hire a second commanding officer and replace equipment while developing a replacement cycle to reduce maintenance costs.
“It’s really about maintaining the services that we have, but also enhancing them,” Reckmann said.
Fire districts and fire departments throughout Clatsop County have experienced dwindling numbers of volunteer firefighters, which has led to the need to hire personnel to supplement volunteers and run day-to-day operations.
Without a second commanding officer, the chief is on call at all times, which has contributed to the turnover of fire chiefs in Cannon Beach.
The fire board’s president, Garry Smith, said the primary goal for the levy is to fund a position for a second officer so there is always a commanding officer available, especially for rescues.
“Without the levy we can’t do that and it puts our chief in jeopardy of trying to do his job and perform the services we need to perform for the community and the district,” Smith said.
Between September 2018 through last August, 77% of calls were for people who do not live in the fire district’s boundaries.
About 62% of the district’s calls are described as rescue and emergency medical calls. Reckmann said the majority of rescue calls have involved tourists visiting the coast for day trips.
Smith said the fire board would ideally like to find a sustainable stream of funding collected from tourists since they make up the majority of calls.
The fire board is having conversations with Cannon Beach about a potential food and beverage tax, part of which could help fund the fire district. Currently, the fire district does not recieve funding from the city.
“The board of directors has been very, very, very cautious about going to the voters to ask them for money for personnel, but we’re at a point where we really don’t have any choice. If we’re going to maintain the fire service to this area that people expect, we’re running out of money to do it and we need their support to keep it going,” Smith said.
“It’s a problem that’s developing that if we don’t find some solution for it, the fire service in these small communities is going to either go away or it’s going to have to consolidate into one large organization,” he said.