TALENT — Jackson County Fire District No. 5 wants to replace two 1980 fire engines and other equipment with a $1.8 million bond levy that will go before voters in Talent, Phoenix and rural parts of southern Jackson County on Nov. 6.
But opponents of the levy say the district should take out a loan and live within its means rather than raise taxes.
District 5 covers 115 square miles and provides fire and emergency medical services for about 25,000 residents in south Jackson County.
One of its 1980 rigs has been in first-out status for the past two weeks at the district's Emigrant Lake station while a 1995 engine is repaired. Older equipment is requiring more frequent repairs, say district officials. The older engines were purchased with the district's last bond measure, passed in 1980.
"What happened is we got behind on equipment and apparatus purchases," said Fire Chief Dan Marshall. "It's tough to play catch-up with those big equipment purchases."
Levy opponents counter that the district has been able to purchase equipment while living within its budget.
"They have had to borrow money much like many people do to buy a car," said Bill Robertson, who served on the district's board for 17 years and is treasurer of the Vote No on Fire Levy 15-112 group.
"You make a down payment and take five to 10 years to pay it off," said Robertson. "I think it's a bad time to raise taxes."
New equipment will provide the level of service required and ensure firefighter safety at a reasonable cost to property owners, Marshall said.
The 10-year levy would increase taxes by 14 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, meaning the owner of a home assessed at $155,000 would pay an additional $21.70 per year.
The levy would buy the district three new engines at about $440,000 each, a new water tender tanker truck for $247,000, self-contained breathing apparatus equipment for $99,500 and three sets of vehicle extraction tools for $71,000.
The stations in Talent and Phoenix would gain new first-out engines. A current 2006 engine would become a second first-out unit at the Talent station.
Robertson said he agrees the district needs one new engine and a tanker, but that the 2006 engine should have stand-alone first-out status.
A discussion at a recent board meeting about the district's readiness to handle emergencies at two future Talent sites — Brammo Inc.'s motorcycle manufacturing plant in the former Walmart building and a 65,000-square-foot Oregon Shakespeare Festival building — illustrate the need to upgrade, said board member Sean Curry.
"In five to 10 years this area could be bigger and denser and a bigger fire challenge," said Curry.
Friends of Fire District 5 has placed about 20 large signs throughout the district urging passage of the measure. The group also has placed smaller signs and plans to go door-to-door.
"We just want to make sure that people have the information," said Friends treasurer Aaron Bustard, who is on the district's paid staff. The group includes community members, volunteers and paid firefighters.
Some of the members had opposed an earlier suggestion to seek more money, said Bustard. The district board scaled back the request to $1.8 million in May.
"What they are asking for is not extravagant or wasteful," said Bustard. "We look at it as more of a necessity."
About $1,500 has been raised by the Friends with donations coming from the firefighters union, the volunteer firefighters association and community groups.
Firehouse Five Foundation, which encourages fire prevention and aids victims of fires, has said it will donate. The group's board has endorsed the levy.
Robertson said his group has raised about $1,020 and spent most of that. It put an argument against the measure in the Voters' Pamphlet and are placing lawn signs.
Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at email@example.com.