A historical view of HFD
On the May 19 ballot, the voters for the Hubbard Fire District (HFD) will be asked to consider a local option levy for the support of emergency response services. With election day approaching, district leaders would like to take the opportunity to provide Hubbard residents with a brief history of HFD and the property tax that supports the district's emergency operations.
HFD and the city of Hubbard have a close association that dates back many decades. In 1947 the Hubbard Fire District was established to provide fire protection for the areas outside the city of Hubbard. HFD worked alongside the city department, which was established under city management in 1924. At that time, both entities used the same fire apparatus, hoses and radios, and were staffed with the same volunteer firefighters.
On May 28, 1970, the voters of Hubbard passed a ballot measure that annexed the fire protection for the city of Hubbard into the Hubbard Fire District. Soon after, an ordinance was approved by the Hubbard City Council that gave HFD all of the city department's fire vehicles, equipment, radios, and a 99-year lease of the fire station on Second Street. Since that time, a combination of volunteers and a few career members have provided fire protection and rescue services to both the City of Hubbard and seven square miles of the surrounding area.
To fully understand how the Hubbard Fire District is funded, we must look back to the property tax reform that took place in the 1990s. Prior to the reform measures, HFD like all Oregon special taxing districts, was funded by a levy system where the Revenue Service, through the County Assessor's Office, set the property tax collection rate each year to meet each district's budgetary needs for that fiscal year.
In 1990, Oregon Measure 5 put a limit on property taxes that could be levied by the county tax assessors. The cap that remains in place today is $5 per thousand of real market value for the funding of schools and $10 per thousand for all other government services. When taxes go over the Measure 5 cap, tax "compression" occurs. Tax compression proportionately reduces the levied taxes of all taxing districts until the total tax falls below the cap. Measure 5 provided tax payer protection by limiting the amount of property tax they would be responsible for paying each year. Bonds do not count towards the tax cap that Measure 5 put into place. The total property tax rate for schools and othergovernment services is well under the Measure 5 limitations.
In 1997, the passage of Measure 50 moved special district funding in Oregon from a floating levy tax system with a different rate each year to a fixed rate structure. Under this law, property tax rates are no longer based on the real market value of property, instead an assessed value was assigned to all property in Oregon based on a percentage of the 1995-96 value.
Measure 50 established permanent rates for all school districts and government services and prevents the assessed value to increase more than 3% each year. In addition to establishing a fixed tax rate, Measure 50 also allows taxing districts to request voter approval of short term bonds and levies to increase funding above the permanent base tax rate when needed to support the district's operations.
By law, bond funds can only be used for capital projects expected to last more than 10 years and are used to purchase vehicles, equipment, and facilities. Local option levies are used to increase funding for daily operations including personnel costs and equipment purchases with a usable life span of less than 10 years.
Measure 50 brought stability to both tax payers and the taxing districts. Individual property owners know how much their taxes are going to cost each year and taxing districts know how much funding they would receive. The bond and levy system allows local tax payers to have more control over how property tax dollars are spent. If a district is doing a good job managing the additional money provided, then voters are more likely to approve future bonds and local option levies.
Property Taxes in the Hubbard Fire District
Over the past 25 years, the voters of HFD have approved a series of bonds that have been used for the purchase of fire vehicles and equipment; all of which are still is service today. In 1995 and again in 2005 voters approved 10-year bonds for the purchase Engine 88 and Engine 87. In 2015, a bond rate of 27 cents per thousand of assessed value was passed for the purchase of additional apparatus and equipment including a water tender and brush truck as well as a light rescue and command vehicle. This bond is currently in place now and will expire in 2023. Since Oregon law prohibits the use of bond funds for the maintenance of vehicles, a portion of the proposed local option levy will be used to maintain the vehicle investments that Hubbard tax payers have made which will ensure many more years of usable life.
In 1997, Measure 50 established the HFD permanent tax rate at 80 cents per thousand of assessed property value. At that time, the Hubbard Fire District was an all-volunteer district that responded to 299 incidents. Because the Hubbard Fire District was staffed with volunteers, they were able to meet all of the emergency response needs of the community and save some money for the future.
As the population of the city of Hubbard has grown, so has the number of emergency responses for HFD. In 1990, the population of the Hubbard Fire District was 1,900 people; by 2019, that number had risen to 6,000. During that same time period, the number of emergency responses for HFD has increased from just over 200 to 730. Due to the increase in emergency response demand, volunteers are no longer able to keep up with the number of 9-1-1 calls; more career staff is needed to help meet the growing needs of the community.
While the Hubbard community has grown by more than 300% over the past 25 years, the Fire District is still receiving the same base tax rate that was set in 1997. The base rate that was established when HFD was an all-volunteer department is no longer adequate to cover the expense of the career staff that is needed to help the volunteers meet the increased emergency response demand.
Levy funds will hire two additional firefighters bringing the total career firefighters in Hubbard to four. The four career members will assist the 27 volunteers meet the increasing demand by ensuring that the station is staffed by career firefighters at all times. Levy funds will ensure the long term sustainability of the Districts equipment and allow the HFD to meet the needs of the growing Hubbard community. Currently, Hubbard residents have one of the lowest total tax rates of all incorporated cities in Marion County.
Michael Kahrmann is the assistant chief and training officer for the Hubbard Fire District.
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