Rural fire district will be folded into TVF&R under vote
Measures that would bring 3,485 rural Newberg property owners into the Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue district passed overwhelmingly in the Nov. 7 election.
"I didn't know where it would go," said Newberg Rural Fire Protection District Secretary/Treasurer John Fawcett, a veteran of more than 30 years on the five-member board. "I was hoping that would be the case, but I wasn't confident it would work out that way."
What the votes mean is pretty simple: Measure 36-187 dissolves the rural district, while Measure 36-188 annexes the former NRFPD into TVF&R.
Measure 36-187 passed 1,324 (62.38 percent) yes votes to 802 (37.72 percent) no votes. Measure 36-188 passed with a nearly identical 1,314 (62.99 percent) yes votes to 772 (37.01 percent) no votes.
Town halls, mailings
Fawcett attributed the overwhelming support for the measures to town hall meetings and mailings that began in April. Although it appeared that most people attending the town hall meetings were in favor of signing on with TVF&R, the board fielded a lot of questions during those meetings.
"It was a pretty good response," Fawcett said.
Few options remain after Newberg joins TVF&R
The geographical boundaries of the rural district, which Fawcett said resembled a bowtie surrounding Newberg, encompasses 55 square miles and has a property valuation of $947 million.
With the city of Newberg voting in a separate measure to annex into the TVF&R district, the rural customers weren't left with a lot of options since historically it had contracted with the Newberg Fire Department for fire protection.
Once it became clear the NFD would cease to exist, the rural board hired a consultant, a retired fire chief, from the Special Districts Association of Oregon, who presented them with several options: dissolve and join TVF&R, join forces with a nearby volunteer fire department or form a fire department of its own.
Due primarily to the costs, the board quickly determined that the only viable option was to join TVF&R, even though it meant a five-fold increase in the taxing rate property owners would pay for fire protection. The board voted unanimously to put the question to the ballot and the voters endorsed the measures.
"I was very pleased to see that," Fawcett said. "It meant we were getting through to the public with what we had to say."
Transferring assets to TVF&R
Now that the measures have passed, the rural district has begun the process of transferring its assets to TVF&R. Those assets are primarily a reserve fund of about $600,000, as well as fire equipment purchased over the years that was leased to the NFD. Since it was contracting with the NFD there is no property to transfer, nor employees.
Big rate hike, but some relief on insurance
Approval of the measures will also mean a giant hike in what rural customers will pay for fire protection. Rural customers had enjoyed a rate of 43.29 cents per &1,000 of assessed value for decades, Fawcett said, but now face TVF&R's standard rate of $2.08 per $1,000.
"Nobody likes a fivefold increase on that portion of their property taxes," he said. "But we really didn't have much of a choice."
He explained that because the rural district didn't have any infrastructure, that city taxpayers had been in fact subsidizing rural residents for years, something that will end under the new system.
On the bright side, however, TVF&R's ISO rating, the metric which insurance companies use to establish homeowners' insurance rates, will apply to Newberg and its rural perimeter. That could mean a substantial drop in insurance rates. TVFR's current rating is a 2, whereas homeowners within the rural district have seen ratings as high as 9 in the past.
Rural area will get its own fire station
Attendant to the passage of the measures is a memorandum of understanding between the rural district and TVF&R to build a rural fire station, although it remains to be seen where it will be located.
"I trust they will really work hard to find a serviceable area," Fawcett said.
The NRFPD reserve funds will go toward construction of the station, he said, adding that it appeared the vote was an "equitable result and the future is bring for residents in the rural district."