By Hillary Borrud
Voters in Bend and the surrounding rural fire district will decide in May whether to pass a temporary tax levy to pay for more firefighter paramedics and reduce response times.
On Wednesday night, the City Council voted unanimously to place a five-year levy on the May ballot. City officials had been discussing a possible levy to pay for firefighting and emergency medical services for the last year.
Mayor Jim Clinton said city councilors disagree on some issues, but “this is one we really need to support. … This translates directly into saving lives.” As the city’s population grew in recent years, funding for the Fire Department did not keep up and now the city needs to address the disparity, Clinton said.
City Councilor Mark Capell agreed. “It’s time for us to say to the public, ‘We need some more money to fund it properly,’” he said.
The five-year local option levy that will appear on the May ballot would tax property owners 20 cents per $1,000 in assessed property value.
“There are also two money measures expiring in 2014 that will significantly offset the cost of this 20 cents,” Fire Chief Larry Langston told the City Council. Two Deschutes County bonds issued in 1996 are scheduled to expire in 2014: one to build the library in downtown Bend, and the other to build the Deschutes County public safety campus, which includes the Sheriff’s Office, the inmate work center, the parole and probation building and the juvenile detention center.
The city expects the levy would raise approximately $1.8 million in the first year, and a total of $10 million over five years, according to the Wednesday meeting agenda. The fire department receives a cut of $1.18 per $1,000 in assessed property value from the city’s permanent tax rate of $2.80 per $1,000. Most of the remaining permanent tax rate revenue pays for police services.
Mayor Pro Tem Jodie Barram said she is “hugely supportive” of the fire levy, and “the only thing I wish this could be — that it’s not — is a permanent fix.”
City Councilor Victor Chudowsky said the city needs to raise the money necessary to improve its Fire Department because as the local population ages, the demand for emergency medical care and transport will increase.
The City Council also completed a performance review for City Manager Eric King in a closed-door session earlier Wednesday night. During the open portion of the meeting, Clinton read a statement of support for King.
“The City Council continues to have confidence in Eric as our city manager,” Clinton said. “We find him to be innovative, visionary, fair and a strategic thinker. The council appreciates Eric’s attention to fiscal responsibility, clear communication and community relations. The creation of a positive organizational culture is a hallmark of his public service.”
Clinton said King will not receive a merit raise this year, but “Eric is qualified for a cost-of-living adjustment, just like all the other people in the city.” The city conducts an annual comparison of city manager pay in similarly sized Oregon cities, and King’s current salary is 3.7 percent higher than the average of those salaries.
Barram said King did not request a merit raise this year.
City Councilor Doug Knight said, “I think we’re truly fortunate to have a person of Eric’s caliber acting in the city manager position.”
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