190307-nrr-fireboundaries

Douglas County Fire District No. 2 crews extinguish flames at a barn on Crouch Road outside Sutherlin in 2017. The barn was totally destroyed, but the crews were able to protect surrounding structures.

The Douglas County Fire District No. 2 board of directors have passed a pair of resolutions that will allow it to ask voters in the district if they want landowners not currently paying taxes for fire service to pay up.

The board voted unanimously to approve the resolutions at a meeting at the district’s Garden Valley station Wednesday night. The first resolution would allow the district to go forward with the process to dissolve the current district. The second would allow the board to ask voters, to include all properties within the existing fire district boundaries on the tax roles so they would be assessed to help pay for the fire district services, including those landowners who have refused to pay.

If the measures get to the ballot, both would have to pass for them to go into effect.

“We’re not changing the boundaries of the district, there are just a lot of properties within the boundaries that are not subject to taxation for the fire district, and we still provide coverage when we’re called out,” said Rich Raynor, the board chair.

Board members say some owners are taking advantage of the service without having to pay for it, and it's a tax fairness issue. They say it's not right that some properties pay for others who don't pay for emergency services, but can still call 9-1-1 to get service. The ballot measures would allow for assessment at the same rate for all property owners in the district.

“We can’t pick and choose,” said Fire Chief Rob Bullock. “It would be difficult for us to say we’re not going to respond to those who are not paying.”

Bullock said there are actually people across from fire stations that are not paying, but he said they have still been able to get the better insurance rating, even though they’re not a member of the fire district, but are within the boundaries of the district.

“They’re getting the benefit of the insurance rate because our ISO rating is a 3,” Bullock told The News-Review in July.

The Insurance Service Office rates a community’s ability to handle fires, with 1 being the best and 10 being the worst. Many insurers factor in the rating when calculating home insurance premiums. So while the owners of these expensive houses don’t chip in for the fire service, they directly benefit from it being there.

Nearly a dozen of the properties not currently paying for fire service have total assessed values of more than $700,000 each and are located in wealthy neighborhoods on Fisher Road, Hayes Eden Lane and Cross Creek Drive. Some of the properties are worth more than one million dollars.

The next step is to present the resolutions to the Douglas County Commissioners and after that, the board will get petitions ready. The district will have to gather about 4,000 signatures to get the redistricting efforts placed on the ballot.

“We’re looking to get it on the November ballot,” Bullock said. “That would mean it would go onto the following year’s tax roll if it passes.”

District officials said they are in desperate need of finding more operating revenue and are at a critical point.

“I just know if we don’t do this, in a year-and-a-half we’re looking at closing a station,” Bullock said.

Douglas County Fire District No. 2 serves about 36,000 people with stations in Dixonville, Green, Melrose, Umpqua, Winchester Garden Valley and Calapooia, west of Sutherlin.

Reporter Dan Bain can be reached at 541-957-4221 or e-mail at dbain@nrtoday.com.

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Reporter

Dan Bain is the health reporter for The News-Review. He previously worked at KPIC and 541 Radio.

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