Merger of two districts would require 'yes' votes from both Clackamas Fire, Estacada Fire residents

Residents of both the Estacada Rural Fire District #69 and Clackamas Fire District No. 1 will have an extra decision to make on this year's 2020 general election ballot come Nov. 3: whether or not to merge the two agencies into one cohesive district. FILE PHOTO - Estacada Rural Fire Dist. No. 69FILE PHOTO - Clackamas Fire Dist. No. 1

Members of the Rotary Club of Oregon City received a first-hand explanation of how the merger would work when Clackamas Fire Deputy Chief Doug Whiteley gave the group a short presentation at its meeting Wednesday, Sept. 23.

Whiteley began with some background, explaining that in 2016 the two fire districts entered into an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) which promised partial services from Clackamas to Estacada. That started out with fire prevention and training services. Later on, that IGA included joint staffing — Estacada, for example, providing funds for staffing of Clackamas Fire's Eagle Creek Station 18 — as well as oversight for large-scale events.

This past January, the two fire districts signed a new agreement in which Clackamas Fire is contracted to provide full services for Estacada Fire. The new contract saw Clackamas take over all responsibilities of Estacada Fire including staffing, and at that time, all Estacada Fire employees became employees of Clackamas Fire. This new contract is set to expire on July 1, 2021.

"They are still a fire district but Clackamas Fire takes care of everything for them," Whiteley said. "They still have a board of directors, and they still have their capital assets — which would be fire stations and fire apparatus — everything else is the responsibility of [Clackamas Fire] district."

According to Whiteley, mergers and legal consolidations are not new to Clackamas Fire. In fact, the district as people know it today became this way through as many as a dozen mergers of neighboring fire districts over the past 40 years.

"That's a lot of times how you see fire districts grow," Whiteley said. "There's recognition of the fiscal value of bringing agencies together, whether it's a better way to service equipment, deploy resources to the community and reduce redundant staff."

Whiteley told Oregon City Rotarians that sometimes mergers turn out to be free for both communities, other times it's not. And on occasion, Whiteley said, these mergers don't work out at all.

Clackamas Fire District No. 1 currently covers 230 square miles sprawling across the northwest corner of Clackamas County. Estacada Rural Fire District No. 69 is another 70 square miles straddling the Clackamas River from the community of Eagle Creek south beyond the North Fork Reservoir. The merger would increase Clackamas Fire's service area to 300 square miles, adding two new stations: Estacada Main Station 330 on Currin Street and George Station 333 on George Road.

The vote to approve the merger is technically two separate ballot measures, one voted on by residents of Clackamas Fire (Measure 3-560), the other by residents of Estacada Rural Fire (Measure 3-561).

"So, if Estacada votes overwhelmingly to join the fire district and the Clackamas Fire residents don't, it doesn't pass. Both of these votes have to be 'yes' votes to move this along," Whiteley said.

If the measure passes, Clackamas Fire would increase full-time staffing of firefighters and paramedics. Effective July 1, 2021, staffing would increase in Estacada to four firefighters on duty with at least one paramedic at all times. Additionally, Estacada residents would have access to various technical rescue teams, fire and life safety education, fire and life safety inspections and education for businesses and support services including building maintenance, fire apparatus maintenance and equipment repair.

Whiteley explained that the merger would cause no additional cost to taxpayers in either district. Clackamas Fire residents would continue to pay the existing tax rate of $2.4012 per $1,000 of assessed value. If passed, Estacada residents would see a reduction in their tax rate from the current $2.4029 per $1,000 of assessed value to the new rate of $2.4012.

More info on the potential merger between Clackamas Fire District No. 1 and Estacada Rural District No. 69 can be found in the Voters' Pamphlet that will be mailed to registered voters beginning Oct. 7. Digital copies of the Voters' Pamphlet are also available on the Clackamas County Elections Division website.

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