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Outdated agreements

There is a time when agreements outlive their purpose.  The city of Keizer has now reached the point where two past agreements need to be altered:  one is an expansion of the Urban Growth Boundary, the other is the Keizer Fire District folding neighborhoods in north Keizer into its district.  Neither change will come without a fight.

For decades Salem and Keizer have shared one Urban Growth Boundary (UGB).  State law calls for UGBs to have a 20-year supply of developable land.  The city of Keizer is, for all intents and purposes, out of land that can be used for new residential and commercial development.  Salem has enough land to yet develop.

At a Salem City Council work session this week to discuss an Economic Opportunities Analysis, Mayor Anna Peterson and Councilor Chuck Bennett were vocal in questioning the need for Keizer’s call for expansion of the two city’s shared Urban Growth Boundary.

Both Peterson and Bennett questioned Keizer’s motive for a possible expansion of the UGB, wondering whether it was for purely growth reasons or for a push for more tax revenue.  Madam Mayor and Councilor Bennett, does it matter?

An agreement about growth in the UGB made in the 1970s is outdated and needs to be amended.  In the 1970s, when Oregon’s land use rules were created,  Keizer was an unincorpated part of Marion County.  Salem was the retail and medical hub of the mid-Willamette Valley.  Since then Keizer has become Oregon’s 13th largest city and has become one of the Valley’s most desirable addresses due to its low tax base and small town livability.  Keizer’s success has left us with little room to grow, both residentially and commercially.  As some developers say, if you’re not growing, you’re dying.  How land in  an expanded Urban Growth Boundary would be developed should be the determined by Keizer and it is time for a 40 year old agreement about how and where growth in the metropolitan area should be should be is buried.

Salem shouldn’t be concerned about further retail developments in an expanded Keizer; Salem is still the retail hub of the Valley, with the downtown, Lancaster and south Salem retail districts.  Salem is also the medical hub of the Valley with a Level 2 trauma hospital and many clinics.

Salem has been aggressively developing and marketing the Mill Creek industrial area to attract new business.  Keizer should have the same opportunity to bring business within our borders and if that means an expansion of the UGB then all the other players need to step back and let Keizer be a partner in the region’s economic development.

Another development regarding past agreements that need to be changed is Keizer Fire District’s proposal to take over north Keizer neighborhoods now covered by Marion County Fire District #1 (MCFD1).

Homeowner associations in Keizer Prairie and Clearlake have asked the fire district to acquire their neighborhoods from Marion County Fire.  Currently more than 1,000 homes in north Keizer are covered by Marion County Fire District; they pay that district’s tax rate.

When the Keizer Rural Fire District was created in 1948 it covered what was then a small but growing residential area.  Marion County Fire District was founded in 1939 and merged with Brooks Fire in 1968 to cover north Marion County areas, which included Clear Lake and other areas that were incorporated into the Keizer city limits and home to explosive growth over the past 20 years.

The Keizer Fire District Board has sent a formal letter to the City of Keizer asking their help in withdrawing Keizer Prairie and Clearlake neighborhoods from MCFD1, then Keizer Fire would step in and service the area.  Oregon law allows a city to withdraw the property because the area does not comprise the area of the MCFD1 district.

The city of Keizer should withdraw so that all of Keizer is covered by the Keizer Fire District.  It will benefit those 1,000 plus homes in those neighborhoods with a decrease in taxes they’d pay for fire service and they will be eligible for better insurance rates due to Keizer Fire District ISO rating (the rating of fire districts insurance companies use to set rates).

Marion County Fire District receives about $500,000 a year in taxes from the homes in their service area in north Keizer.  With its lower tax rate Keizer Fire would collect about $350,000.  It’s a good thing anytime taxes can be lowered for without lowering levels of service.

Marion County Fire District #1 won’t want to give up that kind of revenue.  In an effort to show they can provide service they’ve recently added an ambulance along with staff at the Station 6 on Wheatland Road at Clearlake Road.

Keizer Fire acquiring north Keizer neighborhoods from Marion County Fire District is good for homeowners there, not only for lower taxes but also because response times for fires and other emergencies will be quicker when sent out from Keizer’s fire station.  With emergency calls now requiring up to six personnel it is better to have them right in their backyard and not have to be called from Brooks or other Marion County stations.

Nothing lasts forever and the agreements regarding Urban Growth Boundaries and fire district service borders are no different.  What worked in the 1940s or the 1970s doesn’t work in the 21st century. Keizer is grown up and can handle its development, growth and future and should be able to without kowtowing to other governments who have their own agendas.

—LAZ