By JASON COX
Of the Keizertimes
While the proposed public safety communications fee on next month’s ballot is getting strong support from Keizer Fire District’s firefighters, the Marion County Fire District No. 1 board has voted to oppose the measure.
Randy Franke, the board president, wrote a letter explaining the board’s position. The unanimous vote came at the board’s September 21 meeting.
Reasons included adding taxes during a tough economy and fears that KFD will use the additional resources in its fight to take over the Clear Lake neighborhood of Keizer. A ballot measure may put that question to voters.
One reason is we were never consulted,” Franke said, adding that the lack of communication from supporters in Keizer was “extremely unusual.
“And what was the saying of (former President Bill) Clinton’s economic advisor? It’s the economy, stupid,” Franke added. “We’ve got people out of work, giving up looking for work, we see utility disconnections increasing. People are having to make hard decisions.”
The move puts the board in direct opposition to the Keizer Fire District board, which has signaled its support. Most of the Keizer City Council has voiced support, and Councilor Mark Caillier is the chair of Keizer Citizens for Safe Neighborhoods, a political action committee formed to support the measure.
“The money is set to specifically be used for 911-related costs,” said Caillier, who added he has never heard anyone say monies might be used in the battle between the two fire districts.
And while he acknowledged the lack of a “close working relationship” with MCFD, he said he’d be happy to meet with the board.
The Keizer firefighters union has also made financial contributions.
Keizer Professional Fire President Brian Butler said it comes down to service.
“We have staff vehicles that are 18 years old, engines that are 20 years old, we can’t get equipment like we used to and one reason is increased cost in 911 and communications,” Butler said.
Kris Boyer, president of the Marion County Association of Professional Firefighters, declined comment.
While MCFD would benefit if the measure passes, they are set to receive only 4 percent of the total revenue. Calculations for fire district revenues were based on the number of homes and businesses within the two districts’ territory. Based on projected annual revenue of $837,792, MCFD would get about $33,512, with Keizer Fire receiving approximately $268,093. The City of Keizer would see the lion’s share, with $536,187. However, revenues would be restricted to a specific fund for police communications, including 911 and radios.
“I’d say everyone who has dispatch has the same issues,” Franke said. “The technology has increased, and the costs keep going up. … But is increasing a fee to the citizens the only answer to the problem?”
He added merging the county’s three dispatch centers should have been considered.