Endorsement: Fire levies on ballot should be approved
Voters across western Washington County have a number of tough decisions to make this month on their ballots, but the choice whether or not to renew several fire district levies across the region isn't one of them.
Voters in Cornelius, Gaston and Banks are looking at renewals of local option levies that fund fire districts and departments across the region. Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue, which provides fire services to North Plains, Midway and other rural areas around Hillsboro, is also seeking a renewal.
These are levies voters have supported in the past, and they should continue to do so in the future.
Firefighters in our communities deal with so much more than just burning homes. They provide life-saving medical treatment and are the first on the scene for car crashes, shootings, heart attacks and just about any other emergency. Whether it's a kitten stuck in a tree or the most devastating day of your life, our firefighters are there to lend a helping hand.
Of the five fire levies on the ballot this year, four are renewals. TVF&R, the Gaston Rural Fire Protection District, the Cornelius Fire Department and the Cornelius Rural Fire Protection District are all asking for no more than voters have been giving them for years. These will cost you no more tomorrow than they do today, and they should absolutely be renewed.
The Banks Fire District, though, is asking voters to replace its current local option levy with a slightly larger one. But the fire district isn't looking to give itself a raise.
Like the other levies for Gaston, Cornelius and TVF&R, Banks' levy is an operating levy. It's to keep the lights on and equipment maintained.
The five-year operating levy would tax property owners up to $0.97 per $1,000 of a home's assessed value, up from $0.62 that residents currently pay. The owner of a $200,000 home would pay about $16 per month, about $5 more than they have been paying.
That's a small enough amount that we're comfortable paying it, and you should be, too.
While the city of Banks is one of Washington County's smallest cities, the fire district is asked to cover a massive area: more than 130 square miles, covering the communities of Banks, Buxton, Manning, Timber and surrounding areas out to the county's western and northern borders.
Over the past 12 years, while money from tax revenue has only increased 3.4% per year, Banks' costs for equipment and other items have risen nearly 11%. The district has had to dip into its reserve funds — its rainy day fund, essentially — in order to avoid budget cuts.
That's not sustainable.
Couple that with the fact that Banks is one of the few volunteer fire departments left in Washington County. With a skeleton crew of paid staff, the paramedics and firefighters that respond to emergencies in Banks are volunteers. Banks Fire doesn't have the costs that other firefighting agencies in Washington County do. They keep an eye on their finances, and they spend their money wisely.
Its reliance on volunteers gives the Banks Fire District another important role in the region many may not be aware of. Young firefighters have come to Banks for years to serve and gain experience before landing their first paid job someplace else. Its volunteer and internship programs have helped train hundreds of firefighters working in other parts of Washington County. That's something we should be rewarding.
If voters reject these levies, it will mean serious and dramatic cuts for emergency responders across Western Washington County. This likely means layoffs and serious budget cuts.
In Banks, it could devastate the small fire crew that operates there. Banks volunteer firefighters are held to the same standards as other agencies, seeking the same trainings and certifications. But that training costs money, too, and would have to be re-evaluated if voters shoot down the operations levy. In some communities, fire houses likely wouldn't be able to keep firefighters on call 24/7, leading to longer response times when emergencies do happen. In emergencies every second counts, and those cuts could mean the difference between life and death.
The choice here is obvious: Voters need to approve the operating levies for TVF&R, the Banks Fire District, the Gaston Rural Fire Protection District, the Cornelius Fire Department and the Cornelius Rural Fire Protection District.