If Sutherlin residents want to ensure they have top-notch fire protection, they should approve annexation into Douglas County Fire District No. 2 in this month’s primary election.
Joining Fire District No. 2 provides certainty. The district and its professionally trained firefighters are on the job 24 hours a day, ready to respond to fires and medical calls.
They’ve provided that service over the past four years to give Sutherlin voters confidence that the district could handle the job, despite having other areas of the county to serve.
Sutherlin residents got four years of service at a lower rate than other county property owners served by the district, but it’s time for the cost to be equalized.
We understand that voting to increase one’s taxes is not an easy decision, particularly for those on fixed and low incomes. Joining Fire District No. 2 will mean an extra $1.31 per $1,000 for property owners. That’s about $200 per year for the owner of a $150,000 home.
For the additional expense, home and business owners would have the comfort of knowing that firefighters are standing by and can respond within minutes of a reported fire. It could mean the difference between a home being saved or gutted.
At the present, there’s no backup plan if voters decline to join Fire District No. 2, but in all likelihood less fire protection would be available and response times could increase.
Sutherlin closed its fire department in 2009 to save money. If it were in operation today at the same level as five years ago, it would expend one-quarter of the city’s $4 million budget. That would mean other city services and employees would have to be cut.
Another option would be to have a couple of paid firefighters augmented by a staff of volunteers. A third option might be to join with an existing volunteer fire department, such as North Douglas County Fire & EMS.
Douglas County has some tremendous volunteer firefighters and districts because communities rely on and support them. In unincorporated areas and small cities, it’s the best residents can expect.
Sutherlin could find it challenging to recruit volunteers, however, because they haven’t been needed in the city while it operated its own department and then contracted with Fire Dist. No. 2.
If staffing a fire department largely with volunteers was the best approach for the city, planning and recruitment efforts should have begun by now.
If Sutherlin voters reject annexation into Fire District No. 2, the need to provide fire protection won’t go away. Another plan will have to be devised and presented to voters.
At nearly 8,000 residents, Sutherlin requires a plan that offers assurance of fire protection.
A viable plan is on the ballot. We’d advised voters to approve Measure 10-131 to join Fire District No. 2 along with Measure 10-132, which will reduce their city taxes to offset the increase in fire district taxes.