In the wake of bond measure defeat, fire board looking to lease new vehicles, secure grant funds

After voters rejected its last proposal in May, the Aurora Rural Fire Protection District board of directors has decided to forego another ballot measure for the time being.

Instead, the board is seeking to remedy the district’s most immediate needs by using existing funds and grants, according to Greg Leo, a member of the fire district board.

The $5.885 million bond, which voters rejected 61.1 percent to 38.9 percent, was intended to cover the construction of a new central fire station, as well as new fire apparatus, including two new engines that would replace the district’s oldest trucks (29 and 26 years old, respectively).

Leo said the district has been maintaining a contingency fund for replacing apparatus. It currently does not contain enough to purchase a vehicle outright (a new engine is estimated to cost approximately $425,000), but it could fund a lease agreement for new apparatus at the Aurora and Donald stations.

“What we want to do is address the short-term needs through some creative working with our finances,” Leo said. “The main thing is the apparatus. That really is due for a replacement — it constitutes a safety issue.”

Leasing the vehicles limits firefighters in how much they can be customized to the district’s needs — and could end up costing more in the long run — but Leo said it’s really the board’s only option.

“The best case scenario would have been the levy. That would have put us in a stronger position to search for the best long-term financial deal,” he said. “But the levy didn’t pass, and we have to listen to the will of the voters.”

The bond issue also would have funded seismic upgrades at both of the district’s stations. Currently, neither would be expected to survive if a major earthquake struck the area, and Leo said this is another need that “can’t wait.”

So, the board plans to pursue the retrofits without bond funding, using the results of a seismic study that the district has contracted through a Portland architecture firm to seek grant support.

“With that information, we will apply for some grants,” Leo said. “We believe there is some federal grant money available for that.”

As for the other main piece of the bond issue — the central station that would have been located on land owned by the district near the intersection of Interstate 5 and Ehlen Road Northeast — that’s on hold, for now.

“We think the public didn’t really understand the central station and our view, so we want to take some time to listen to them,” he said. “When voters have the message like they did, it’s important for the fire board to hear it, and I think we have heard it.”

Leo said he does not expect that the board would seek another bond measure, at least not until after completing the lease agreements and securing grant funding for the seismic upgrades.

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