Support for fire district general obligation bond varies by county

A general obligation bond set forth by the Aurora Rural Fire Protection District board, which would have covered a number of capital improvements and expenditures, was defeated by voters during the May 20 election, 61.1 percent to 38.9 percent.

The $5.885 million bond was intended to cover the construction of a new central fire station, as well as new fire apparatus, including two new engines that would replace the district’s oldest trucks (29 and 26 years old, respectively).

Greg Leo, member of the fire district board and treasurer of the campaign committee in favor of the measure, acknowledged last week that the results were deflating.

“It’s always disappointing to lose an election,” he said.

He noted that the need behind the board’s request for bond funding still exists.

“We need to replace this equipment. These are pressing needs, and they haven’t gone away,” he said. “We will strive to operate with the fire apparatus we have, but there needs to be a serious conversation about whether we have the adequate facility and equipment to meet the needs of the fire district.”

He said whether the district will try again in a future election has yet to be determined by the board.

“We could defer the issue for a while, take time to have a conversation with the community about the needs for new equipment and the fire station,” Leo said.

The district covers an approximately 64-square-mile area, about two-thirds of which is in Marion County, with the rest in Clackamas. Interestingly, the election results showed a sharp divergence between the two counties.

While district voters residing in Marion County rejected the bond issue by a nearly 2-1 margin, the same question in Clackamas County was defeated by only six votes.

Leo said he believes this discrepancy is due in large part to arguments that were submitted in opposition to the bond issue in the Marion County voter pamphlet, at least one of which contained “a materially false statement.”

The argument submitted by Frank Stormo, Todd Deaton, Mike Holland and Ocey Grant, opened by saying, “VOTE NO!!! This bond levy will DOUBLE the Fire District Tax assessments for the next 20 Years,” which Leo said is categorically false.

There were no arguments submitted in opposition to the bond in the Clackamas County voter pamphlet.

“We had these voter pamphlets in Marion County that were telling voters it would double their taxes for 20 years,” Leo said. “I have to think that had an effect because of the disparity between the counties.”

The campaign in favor of the bond had filed a suit against the four men prior to the election in regards to the pamphlet statement. Leo had said in a previous interview that the suit would likely be dropped if the bond passed, but now, the campaign will almost certainly move forward with the litigation.

“The committee has not met, but I’m pretty sure our intention is to go forward with that,” he said. “The impact of the false statement is pretty well documented now. We can show it did make a material difference between the two counties.”

Should the judge rule in its favor, the committee could potentially recoup up to $2,500, under state statutes.

David Carlson, the attorney representing the four defendants, did not respond to a request for comment on the case before press time.

Voter turnout on the bond issue was higher than the state and county averages in both counties. Just over 40 percent of eligible voters in the Clackamas County area of the district submitted ballots, while an astonishing 80 percent of Marion County’s eligible voters weighed in.

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