TRI CITY — The Tri City Rural Fire Protection District has knocked $1.1 million off a bond levy that went down in defeat last November in an attempt to sway voters in the May 21 election.
The fire district’s board of directors shelved plans for an attached community center and is now seeking $2.2 million for only a fire hall on an empty lot at 140 S. Old Pacific Highway.
The 10,000-square-foot station would be built a few hundred yards south of the existing station built in 1955.
“We’ve cut it back to the minimum we feel we need to meet the requirements of the district and to give us adequate meeting and training space,” fire Chief Bruce Stimpson said.
If the bond passes, district residents will pay 63 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. That would be on top of the $1.27 per $1,000 assessed valuation that residents pay to support the district’s daily operations. The tax rate is on the low end among Douglas County fire districts.
Firefighters and board members have been going door-to-door to explain how the new levy request differs from the previous one and to gauge residents’ response.
The reaction has been positive, Stimpson said.
The bond levy presented in November would have cost residents $1 per $1,000 of assessed value, and the reaction was negative — 57 percent of the 1,530 fire district residents who cast ballots voted “no.”
Stimpson said he hopes eliminating the community center will increase support for the bond.
“I would have liked the community center,” said Tri City resident Sheri Eastridge, who voted in favor of the levy last time and said she intends to vote for it again. “We really don’t have a good gathering place here.”
Even without the community center, some question whether now, with unemployment high, is a good time to raise taxes.
Tri City resident Mike Fleshman, who said he voted against the November bond issue and plans to do so again, said he thinks the existing station is adequate for the district’s needs.
“It’s not like the roof is falling in or it’s too small,” he said.
Fleshman said he would like to see the fire district spend its efforts on becoming more efficient and improving call response times.
“I don’t know if it’s a new fire station they need,” he said.
Stimpson said the fire station is too small, and there isn’t room on the lot to expand the building. It also means the volunteer firefighters must park their personal vehicles on an adjoining private lot when they respond to calls.
Firefighters don’t have a locker room to put on their protective gear. Instead, they dress next to idling trucks.
A meeting room upstairs is too small to be used for training, Stimpson said.
The new building would have four drive-through bays and three additional bays that smaller and older backup trucks could back into. The building would be constructed in a way that would allow expansion if voters decided later to finance a community center.
The fire district has done its best to minimize the costs of moving, Stimpson said. The district took $100,000 from savings as a down payment on the new property, which is across the highway from a Les Schwab Tire Center, and has made monthly mortgage payments for the past four years.
About two-thirds of the engineering studies have been completed and soil and seismic studies were done three years ago. Volunteer firefighters razed an old house on the property and excavated the site.
If the bond passes, the district plans to sell the old fire station and property, with the money going toward paying the bond, Stimpson said. That would lower the yearly amount paid by district residents.
While Fleshman and other district residents have questioned the timing of the levy in a bad economy, Stimpson said it may be the best time to build.
With contractors eager for work, bids are likely to be thousands of dollars lower than if the district waits for economic conditions to improve, Stimpson said.
• You can reach reporter John Sowell at 541-957-4209 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.