“At times we are unable to respond to calls,” says Fire Chief
Emergency calls keep climbing for Marion County Fire District #1 and Fire Chief Kyle McMann says that the agency isn’t always able to respond immediately. This is the result of personnel layoffs after the Fire District lost 30 percent ($2.4 million) of its operating revenue when its local option levy was rejected by voters last year.
In 2019, the agency responded to 8,026 calls for service. In 2020, that number increased to 8,118. Overall, call volumes have increased almost 50 percent since 2013.
By law, the Fire District must operate under a balanced budget. Budget cuts included laying off 12 full-time firefighter/paramedics, closing fire stations, and taking emergency apparatus out of service. The Fire District is down to just three units responding compared to 5.5 before the budget cuts. At times, there are no units available to respond especially when multiple emergencies happen at the same time, like during the recent wind and ice storm. The agency was unable to respond to 20 calls for service during that time.
“This is the reality of where we are today, and it’s frightening,” said Fire Chief Kyle McMann. “We don’t have enough emergency personnel to respond. Neighboring agencies have told us not to rely on them to respond to our calls. We are in a situation that is unsafe for the people we serve and our emergency responders.”
MCFD#1 had asked permission to increase its local option levy in May 2020 to hire additional personnel. That request was turned down by voters. It then asked voters to simply renew the local option levy for the same amount last November. That ballot measure, while closer, also failed to earn the 50 percent required to pass.
Now, the agency is back on the ballot for May 2021 asking voters to approve a lesser amount – $0.59 per $1,000 of assessed property value – for five years. Funding would be used to hire back nine full-time firefighter/paramedics. This would increase the number of responding units to four, including a dedicated three-person engine company.
MCFD#1 funds emergency services through a permanent property tax levy of $1.90 per $1,000 of assessed value. Until last year, it also received a local option levy of $0.71 per $1,000 which accounted for 30 percent ($2.4 million) in operating revenue to provide emergency services. The Fire District is an independent taxing district and receives no revenue from Marion County or the State of Oregon. It operates under a balanced budget and has passed all its independent financial audits. More information about the Fire District can be found at www.mcfd1.com.