Both the city and the rural community around Newberg are both on track to let voters decide whether to join the Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue District permanently.
The Newberg City Council, the Newberg Rural Fire Protection board of directors and the TVF&R board unanimously approved measures last week to kick start the process of putting the issue on the November general election ballot.
TVF&R officials committed to a public outreach campaign over the next few months to convince area voters that joining TVF&R is the best course.
"Just as the former fire chief of Newberg, this is exciting for me: one that now we have two elected bodies — the city of Newberg as well as the Newberg Rural Fire Protection District — now agree that TVF&R is the best solution to providing long-term, sustainable fire and EMS to their community …" said Les Hallman, now an assistant chief with TVF&R. "No. 2, I'm excited that now we will have the opportunity to convince the community, the citizens, that same thing."
The interview came after a series of meetings early last week, a choreographed passage of a number of resolutions by the three bodies to start the annexation process and allow the questions to be put on the ballot.
The ballot language and voter pamphlet information, however, remain to be worked out.
"This is the button that you push that gets roller coaster moving," City Attorney Truman Stone told the City Council July 17.
The council unanimously approved their expected resolution at the end of a five-hour meeting with little discussion, briefly addressing delays in transferring 9-1-1 calls from Newberg's dispatch to TVF&R as well as a nod from councilors to concerns on taxes.
With TVF&R slated to impose a tax of $2.08 per $1,000 of assessed property value, some on the council have called for a resolution promising not to collect the rate-equivalent of $1.88 the city currently pays for fire while others have argued for a stricter charter amendment.
"I think this is the best move for the community at this time, so I'll be supporting it, but I'm going to be continuing to be critical about a couple of burrs I have in my saddle," Johnson said.
Two questions on rural ballot
The rural district and TVF&R boards approved their pieces of the puzzle July 18 during concurrent meetings, according to TVF&R officials.
Residents of the Newberg Rural Fire Protection District will see a more complicated ballot in November as they will be presented with two basic questions: one whether the district should be dissolved and two whether the area should then be annexed by TVF&R.
Both of those questions must get a "yes" from a majority of the voters for the annexation to go through, explained Tim Dietz, now president of the NRFPD board.
The rural district had been considering a series of options in addition to being annexed by TVF&R, ranging from aligning with another nearby fire department or starting a new fire department with either volunteers or paid staff.
Although the TVF&R tax rate of $2.08 would be a nearly five-fold increase from the current rate of 43 cents per $1,000 in assessed property value rural homeowners are paying now, the other options would have fallen well short of TVF&R's service capability, explained board member John Fawcett in an email before the meeting.
"Although none of the board members are happy with a TVF&R tax rate increase, the other options were either considered not practical, infeasible or too expensive," he said.
Dietz noted those who spoke at a series of meetings recently seemed to generally favor joining TVF&R.
"After several basically town halls and getting input from our residents, the board of directors determined that the best interest of the residents was to dissolve the fire district and annex to Tualatin Valley," Dietz said. "Certainly, the voters will make the ultimate decision on that in November."
While the rural fire board had been waiting to make a decision until the city made its determination, both will now hold separate elections independently of the other.
Asked about how TVF&R might handle a situation in which one votes no – particularly the city, which has all of the fire equipment and stations – Hallman acknowledged there might be an awkward transition period but he affirmed that they would honor any yes vote, even if that means building new infrastructure.
"If the voters say 'we want TVF&R to be our service provider,' we're going to be 100 percent dedicated to that community and giving them that service," he said.
Both Hallman and Duyck noted that the circumstances that prompted Newberg to contract with TVF&R in the first place – aging equipment, rising call volume, limited money to hire more staff and a dwindling pool of volunteers – haven't gone away, and TVF&R would better equipped to assist no matter how the election goes.
Duyck said the TVF&R would work with all sides in the event of a 'no' vote to determine the next steps, even if that means working out a new question and package to send to voters on joining TVF&R.
"We're in this relationship for the long haul and we will work through whatever issues come up and make sure in the end that the citizens of both the city and the rural (district) are completely taken care of," Duyck said.