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Fire district says bond helps fill service gaps

New stations are part of 20-year, $77 million request

When lives hang in the balance, every second it takes to respond counts, making a funding measure on the November ballot critical for tipping the balance in favor of firefighters working to save people's lives.

'When the bell rings, we've got to be good every time and exceed expectations,' said Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue Chief Jeff Johnson. 'We are not in an occupation where we can afford to get it wrong.

'We've got to be spectacular when people need us. Anything less than our best is not good enough when lives are at stake.'

In light of growing demands for fire protection and emergency medical services, living up to those expectations has become more difficult.

The district serves more than 420,000 residents in one of the fastest growing regions in Oregon and strives to respond to 90 percent of all incidents within six minutes.

'The bell is starting to ring more often and the streets are getting more clogged with congestion, which increases our travel times and slows our response time to calls for service,' Johnson said.

Assistant Fire Chief Paul LeSage agreed.

'Responses continue to degrade due to a lot of development outside the reach of our infrastructure,' he said.

He pointed to a major trouble spot along Walnut Street in Tigard, where deployment analysis reveals the worst performance in the district.

'We've tried to move around apparatus and redistribute resources, but the travel times are still too long,' said LeSage, as he pointed to a map showing areas where it took as long as eight minutes for help to arrive. 'Nothing short of a new facility in the area will resolve that issue for us.

'We're not able to stem the tide based on the demand.'

Fire officials said Ballot Measure 34-133 held 'tremendous significance' for the future of the fire district by funding projects needed to keep pace with growth within its boundary.

If approved, the $77.5 million, 20-year general obligation would help make a long-term investment in the district's emergency response infrastructure.

Funding from the measure will be used to address station deficiencies, replace emergency vehicles, acquire land for stations, construct two new stations and build a new command and business operations facility.

If approved, the fire district would have the authority to sell up to $77.5 million in general obligation bonds to meet project costs as they are built.

Because of the nature of the measure, the bond tax rate will vary. In the first two years, an owner of a $200,000 home would pay about $14 in 2007 and 2008.

The maximum annual cost for a typical home during the 20-year life of the bond will be about $33.

Projects include the purchase of 15 fire engines, two trucks, two water tenders, two transport rescues, a rescue pumper and heavy rescue unit.

Major seismic and safety upgrades are also planned for Somerset Station 64, West Slope Station 65, South Beaverton Station 66 and Cooper Mountain Station 69.

The fire district also hopes to replace older fire stations, including Oak Hills Station 68 and Progress Station 53. It also will be used to build a new station on Walnut Street in Tigard.

The district expects to use some of the money to purchase land for construction of three new stations in North Bethany, Bull Mountain and Aloha.

A number of the projects have been on the district's radar since the late-1990s and deferred due to limited resources.