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CRF&R board agrees to levy language


Board approves details of $15 million capital bond levy planned for May ballot

The Columbia River Fire & Rescue board of directors on Wednesday, Feb. 26, approved final language for a proposed $15 million general obligation bond levy to finance the district’s capital expenditures over the next 20 years.

“It’s just another one of our gut-checks to make sure everything is in line,” said Marit Nelson, the district’s finance director.

Final board approval of the levy is required at the board’s March 11 meeting before sending it to the Columbia County Elections Department for placement on the May ballot.

If approved, taxes on district property are expected to increase by roughly 30 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. For a home valued at $200,000, the expected annual tax increase would be $60.

The bond, which would likely be issued in three increments, is variable.

Should the district’s overall assessed value increase, the levy rate for individual properties would be expected to decrease each time the bond is issued, explained Chief Jay Tappan.

Tappan said he believes the overall property value in the district will continue to climb as the effects of the Great Recession recede, resulting in lesser payments from homeowners down the line.

“We’re pretty optimistic about that,” he said.

Funds raised from the levy would be used for capital projects, including equipment purchases, fire station upgrades and replacement of the fire truck and ambulance fleet. A portion of the funds would also be used to refinance loan terms for outstanding debt on the Lee Broadbent Training Center, a district-owned fire training facility opened in 2008.

Tappan said the fire district’s intention is to be as specific as possible for how the bond levy dollars would be used.

“We all agree that if we ask the citizens for this money, we want to be very specific about what we’re going to use it for,” he said.

Nelson assured the board there is some flexibility in the proposed levy language, however, to allow for revisions should time or conditions alter purchase plans.

One example, said Division Chief Ron Youngberg, would be changes in technology that could affect today’s expectations for specific purchases.

“Right now, we’re using iPads,” Youngberg said. “But 15 years from now...”

Columbia County commissioners’ decision to seek a $7.07 million, three-year operating levy for the Columbia County Jail sets the stage for two high-profile tax initiatives to appear on the May ballot.

CRF&R board member Bob Braud started to discuss implications of the proposed jail levy on the fire district’s proposal shortly after Wednesday’s meeting adjourned, though other board members pointed out such discussion needed to occur in an official meeting and not outside of adjournment.

Tappan said the CRF&R board has been mapping out its capital bond levy for the past two years. He said there was a belief county officials would not seek another jail levy for at least one year following voters’ decision last November to turn down a four-year option for the jail.

“This one kind of took us by surprise,” Tappan said of the proposed jail levy.