RRVFire District Exploratory Committee Meeting:   7/5/22

Attendance: Walt, Brad, Beck, John, Scott, Jennifer, Reta

Beck will reach out to Gayle or Lena since Karen nor Melanie have the time for this endeavor.

Presentation over Zoom with George Dunkel:  Led by Walt

Representative from the Special Districts Association of Oregon and a former fire chief.

There are 500 small districts in rural areas (and some in the urban areas) in Oregon.  Cottage Grove Fire Department joined South Lane and Creswell to form a special district named South Lane Fire and Rescue District,

He encouraged us to form a tax entity (special district) because none of the groups in Oregon have been able to sustain the fire Department on donations. 

There is the alternative of individual contracts between homeowners and an established Fire Department (much like we have now). Although this is not effective in keeping fires from spreading. George provided an example of Josephine County which had their special district voted down because there is a company providing contract protection. The county commission wants to change this because it places the “havenot” areas in danger and increases further fire spreading.

The SDAO offers cooperative insurance pools to boards and employees.

The SDAO offers consulting services to help groups trying to form Special Districts. An attorney consultation is usually not needed until near the end of the process.

He can help us put together a budget to get started on the process.

  1. We will put the Fire District on the ballot giving the community the opportunity to decide if they want to pay for protection through a vote.
  2. We must decide what we want/can provide and the cost of that program.
  3. In establishing  boundaries we must define improved areas because then we are only responsible for protecting property of those taxpayers paying for the fire protection.
  4. We need to coordinate with BLM – Bohemia, Forest Service.  

Steps for Forming a Special District

  1. Define boundaries:  Use the boundary with South Lane Fire District to expedite reciprocal assistance. (Maybe they will give us the wording of their official boundaries to add to ours.)
  2. Determine the level of service we want to provide. Volunteers? Paid personnel? Fire only or fire and EMS? Determine the training we can pay for and how many people will be needed.
  3. Create a rough budget (just the cost of a 911 call or operating cost – not building and equipment).
  4. Gather support from the community. Information on what their tax dollars would provide vs no protection. Explanation that we are currently in a level 10 fire insurance area (0 protection) and even if we could raise the insurance rating to a level 9 with a fire district, it should mean homeowners insurance savings.

John: How do we convince voters to pass the measure?

George: Center it around costs vs benefits.  Emphasize response time difference to the contract or no help. Chief Wooten of SLFD is very supportive because of the lengthy response time they would need to fight a fire up here.  John Flanagan of ODF is supportive because they are not trained for fighting developed property.

Scott:  Lane County cCommissioners encouraged us to get an Emergency Grant to help with preliminary expenses needed in order to get this on a ballot.  How do we write it and how do we know what to ask for?

George: This should be able to get on the May or November 2023 ballot. Contact both local Representative Cedric Hayden and Senator Posanski to see if they could help write it or have an idea where to get a template or copy of other groups’ efforts.

John: How long would it take for the fire department to be up and running if a vote does pass?

George:  Within 6  to 9 months.  As soon as we are an official special district. We would be eligible for grants and equipment and low interest loans through county or ODF, etc. We would need to find the people, get them trained, a place to go for equipment, etc.

We would need to find a place to have a temporary fire station until funds could be secured to build a permanent station or two.  We can build in steps. As long as we are making progress towards permanent stations, etc., we are given leeway in getting it built.

If we find a space to house equipment, the building won’t be insured but personnel would be.

Walt: This will be a long, narrow district about 20 miles long. Where would we place stations?

George: Ideally the 1st facility would be 5 miles from the South Lane Fire District boundary or 5 miles from the last improved property.  And later build a 2nd or 3rd facility.

Personnel:  Fire Chief Wooten should be able to train groups of volunteers at a minimal cost.

There are different levels of fire fighting requiring additional training.

George will be in Cottage Grove next month presenting a workshop on being a board member. He will send contact information for those interested to attend.

Group Discussion

How many paid people? How many volunteers are available?  

Should we extend boundaries to even those away from the river or farther up the mountain? Probably depends if they are willing to support the tax base.

Beck: Lane County has a Community Wildfire Protection Plan Website

She will send links for us to examine.  

The survey they used is very informative and could be used (with education materials) as our first form of outreach.  We would also learn if there is a support base.  We could also ask for volunteers to see if we would have adequate free support.

She also showed an ODF site that lists grant possibilities.  We could use some of the materials at least for outreach information.  They also indicate that many of the FireWise recommendations will become mandatory or code in the future. — Plus it adds to safety.

Reta will contact Katy Vaughn to see if she knows of any copies of the last effort for a tax base to support a Fire Department.

Scott:  We really need help in nailing down the costs we will encounter getting this on the ballot. We have to pay for it to get on the ballot, to advertise, etc.  He will contact the representative and senator.

Walt will continue to work on the boundaries.