‘We’re at this breaking point,’ says fire chief
SISTERS, Ore. (KTVZ) – The Cloverdale Fire District, outside of Sisters, is again seeking a property tax hike in the May ballot for a crucial additional endowment, after a measure failed more financial in 2021.
Measure 9-146 is lightened, but still seeks to increase the tax rate for personnel and operations by $1.09 per $1,000 of assessed value. This rate has remained unchanged in the district since 1997.
Cloverdale Fire Chief Thad Olsen told NewsChannel 21 in March, “Neighboring agencies around us have much higher tax rates, over $3 to $1,000.”
According to Cloverdale, the Sisters-Camp Sherman Fire District has a property tax rate of $2.92. Black Butte Ranch Fire’s rate is $3.03 while Crooked River Ranch Fire’s rate is $3.21, almost or more than double Cloverdale’s full tax rate of $1.47, which includes an increase of 38 cents a few years ago for the purchase of equipment alone.
Olsen said while the tax rate remains largely unchanged, calls to the district have more than doubled since 2008, from 158 that year to 370 in 2021.
Without more resources, Olsen said it wasn’t sustainable.
“And we actually have fewer staff now than in 2008,” he said.
The May 2021 ballot measure provided for a tax rate increase of $1.35. But the levy didn’t have the unanimous support of volunteers like Matt Cyrus.
“I felt it was too much and not necessary for the needs of the district,” said Cyrus, a longtime volunteer captain with the fire district.
This measure failed by a margin of 70 to 30%.
“We went back to the drawing board,” Olsen said.
The 2021 measure was to add two employees and house an ambulance in the neighborhood. Ambulance service in Cloverdale is currently provided by the Sisters-Camp Sherman Department.
“It was significantly increased demand than last year,” said Cloverdale board member Cindy Kettering. “This year we’ve narrowed it down to our most critical needs.”
The most critical need: staff.
“We need two more staff,” said longtime volunteer Rex Parks Sr. “Paid staff to make sure we have enough people here at all times for every time we have a device coming out of this bay.”
The new levy provides for a tax rate increase of 69 cents to add just that: two fire-medics, doubling the department’s current paid staff.
“It’s a number and a request that makes sense and is needed,” Cyrus said.
The fee would allow the station to be staffed 24/7, eliminating situations where a volunteer is called from home to respond, which takes up valuable time.
“Eight to 12 minutes when you encounter an emergency, whether it’s a respiratory problem, a car accident or a bushfire, can spread quickly,” Olsen said.
Cyrus said this tax is a tax that 100% of volunteers can afford, and this was echoed by Cloverdale Volunteer Firefighters Association President Alan Smoke.
“This particular levy, I personally believe, is the minimum requirement,” Smoke said.
The two additional employees would also reduce the hours each spends training volunteers.
“Every time we go to someone’s house, because we see them on the worst day of their life, most of the time, and we want to make sure we have people who can handle the scene,” Parks Sr. .
That’s why Olsen said this year’s passage of the levy is critical.
“Honestly, I don’t know how we’re going to proceed as a fire district if this tax fails,” he said. “We are at this breaking point.”