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Firemen trade barbs at meeting

K. Henson, J. Cowan

Of the Keizertimes

Keizer city councilors tabled until Dec. 19 a resolution which would send the proposed annexation of the Clear Lake neighborhood into Keizer Fire District.

The move at Monday night’s meeting came as leaders from KFD and Marion County Fire District No. 1 continued criticizing one another for everything from allegedly inconsistent statements to showing up at last week’s Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Keizer.

The council had voted just an hour or so earlier in the evening to approve ballot title and language that would send the matter to voters in a March election. Councilors expressed a desire to give the two agencies until Dec. 19 to reach a compromise, but were informed by MCFD attorney Christopher Crean that the agency would likely file a challenge to the ballot language in court. Crean had informed the city of a potential legal challenge earlier that day.

Councilor Joe Egli made a motion to reconsider, which was supported by Councilors David McKane, Mark Caillier and Jim Taylor.

Councilor Cathy Clark, who supported moving forward with the vote, said MCFD has shown a pattern of submitting last-minute legal arguments before council meetings.

“I’m not sure that even if we go through the exercise of going through this all over again, making sure it all lines up, that at 4 o’clock on Dec. 19, we won’t get another one,” Clark said. “I’m not sure when this is going to stop.”

Keizer Fire District Chief Jeff Cowan said his district would receive about $350,000 annually in property tax revenues should KFD serve the Clear Lake area. But if the election is held past March 2012 – and KFD prevailed – revenues would likely not be available for the 2012-13 fiscal year.

And Randy Franke, president of the MCFD board, said each agency has spent approximately $100,000 each on legal matters related to the annexation.

“That kind of financial bleeding really needs to stop,” Franke said. “Spending taxpayer’s money on lawyers fighting this battle doesn’t make sense, probably, any time, much less in this economic climate.”

“That just seems kind of exorbitant,” said Taylor, who offered up a similar rebuke to Cowan.

Councilor David McKane questioned what kind of campaign residents in Keizer could expect should the matter be decided by voters.

“I’m thinking, ‘vote for me because they’re incompetent,’” McKane said.

MCFD Chief J. Kevin Henson said his agency has taken additional steps to strengthen community ties, including participating in the Festival of Lights parade and having a presence at last week’s Christmas tree lighting ceremony.

Cowan was unimpressed.

“We put lights on the tree (and) we supply chairs,” Cowan said, calling the move to show up at the tree lighting “a campaign manuever.”

Dave Zahn, a longtime MCFD firefighter who last month proposed an agreement where the two district could share the current MCFD station in Clear Lake, said Cowan’s remarks were “tough to take.” He said the station hosts open houses, participates in National Night Out and has a treat tent each Halloween.