Approval of Molalla Fire District's levy on the May 15 ballot would raise taxes, maintain fire/paramedic services

The May 15 ballot contains a replacement levy for Molalla's rural Fire Protection District 73. If voters approve it, the levy tax rate jumps 33 cents over the current 43 cents, changing the rate to 76 cents per $1,000 assessed value. The rate would be effective for five years beginning this November.

It works out like this. Using an average home's assessed value of $170,000, the replacement cost would rise to about $130 per year or about $11 per month, meaning a $56 increase over the current levy. The new rate will raise about $1,168,029 in 2018-19, $1,203,070 in 2019-20 and $1,239,162 in 2020-21.

The Molalla Fire Department hopes to use the extra funds for simultaneous emergency calls, increasing response times as well as the ability to keep six firefighter/paramedics with Advanced Life Support skills on staff. Three of Molalla Fire's ALS firefighter/paramedics are paid for from current levy funds, but three are paid from a federal SAFER grant that expires this year and isn't renewable.

The levy funding would pay for the three firefighter/paramedics with ALS skills. This would allow at least one ALS paramedic to be part of each medical response team. These paramedics provide more advanced levels of emergency assistance than those with basic life support skills.

"Currently, about half of our calls occur when one crew is already out on an emergency. The replacement levy would help ensure we are able to continue to respond to both calls in these situations. Otherwise, some residents may have to wait at least 15 or more minutes for help to arrive from a nearby fire district," said Mike Towner, the Molalla Fire District board president.

Molalla Fire also provides ambulance service to a 350-square mile area that includes portions of neighboring fire districts and unprotected wilderness areas adding extra time. "Transporting patients can take up to two hours," said Fire Chief Vince Stafford. The replacement levy will ensure a second crew is available while one crew is transporting a patient.

It's important that the levy gets passed, according to Stafford. If not, six of the District's 11 paid firefighter/paramedics likely will be laid off creating emergency response delays and slower emergency transports to area hospitals. In addition, Molalla Fire would have to increase its reliance on backup support from neighboring districts when there are multiple calls for service at the same time. However, these other services also could be out further increasing delays during emergencies.

Compared with other fire districts in Clackamas County, Molalla has the lowest levy. The $1.43 levy compares with Colten's levy of $1.56; Canby's of $1.99; Tualatin Valley and Rescue at $207; Sandy's fire district of $2.17; Estacada at $2.40 and Clackamas County Fire District #1 is $2.50.

Molalla's firefighters and paramedics serve an area just over 100 square miles including Molalla, Mulino and surrounding areas. It operates from two stations; Number 82, the headquarters station, in Molalla and Station 81, which is four miles north on Highway 213 as well as providing ambulance service to 350 square miles absorbing extra portions of neighboring fire districts and unprotected wilderness areas They accomplish six essential services include emergency rescue response, ambulance transportation, fire suppression, fire prevention services, rescue services and hazardous materials response.

Everyone contacted appears to be for the levy. These services are not paid by the city, but are considered essential by those in the area.

If the levy doesn't pass, not only will the district be short three ALS firefighter/paramedics, but insurance ratings will be affected and homeowners fire premiums will likely rise, said residents Lynn Blatter and Ken Scuito in a letter. And, when a crew is transporting patients to hospitals and someone else is sick or becomes injured, it could mean life or death for that patient.

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