Public hearing set for Tuesday

by: SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: MARK MILLER - Columbia River Fire & Rescue Chief Jay TappanColumbia River Fire & Rescue is planning to seek a general obligation bond levy of up to $15 million on the May ballot, fire district officials told the Spotlight Tuesday, Feb. 4.

Marit Nelson, CRF&R finance and human resources director, said the fire district needs the money to pay for desired fire station upgrades and new equipment, including firefighting vehicles, over the next 20 years.

“We have all the apparatus that we need to operate, and we have a wonderful maintenance department,” Nelson said. “But over the next 20 years, we need to replace those items.”

Among the equipment that CRF&R anticipates the need to replace is its radio sets, Nelson said. According to her, the manufacturer of the radio sets used by CRF&R firefighters plans to discontinue them, meaning that the fire district will likely need to replace each unit that breaks down or is lost with a more expensive model.

The fire district also wants to purchase a truck for its Deer Island station, Nelson added.

“We want to put a fire engine out there that could accommodate all of our volunteers that operate out of that station and allow us to have a better response for that station,” said Nelson.

CRF&R serves communities from Rainier to Warren. Its administrative office is in St. Helens.

The St. Helens station recently received a seismic retrofit. Nelson said CRF&R plans similar upgrades at its Rainier station, along with upgrades to both that station and its Columbia County Fairgrounds station to provide more public space for community events and emergency shelters. The Fairgrounds station is also in line for upgrades to accommodate four firefighters instead of two.

The Columbia River Fire & Rescue board of directors is holding a public hearing Tuesday, Feb. 11, to hear comments on its levy plans.

“We want to make sure that all of our communities are safe, and that it benefits all of our communities,” Nelson said of the bond levy.

As Nelson described it, the bond would be for capital projects only, and it would be issued in several increments to spread the $15 million in anticipated revenue out over a number of years. She said CRF&R leaders’ “ultimate goal” is to keep it from adding more than 30 cents per $1,000 in assessed property value onto property taxes in the fire district.

Property tax collections for CRF&R are already much higher than other fire protection districts in Columbia County, according to data made available by the county.

CRF&R collected about $6.13 million in property taxes last year, well above the nearly $1.1 million collected by the Scappoose Rural Fire District, which serves a smaller population.

Nelson said the fire district’s options are limited.

“It is definitely not something we want to do, but ... we don’t have the capacity ourselves right now to try to save $15 million,” Nelson said. “We’ve really focused on keeping the boots on the ground and maintaining the services.”

Nelson continued, “If the voters come back and tell us ‘no,’ we will definitely accept that. ... But for me personally, it’s just something we have to move forward on. ... I feel like it’s a valid thing to ask.”

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