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Fire District 5 asks voters to approve levy

TALENT — Voters in Jackson County Fire District No. 5 will decide in November whether to approve a $1.8 million, 10-year levy to replace aging firefighting equipment.

The district serves residents in Talent, Phoenix and other rural areas in south Jackson County.

The district's board of directors authorized placing the levy on the ballot on Tuesday.

"We have two fire engines that we need to replace that are 32 years old," said board President Dan Gregory. "The need is there. Our demands for services have gone up, as have mandates."

If the levy is approved, property owners would pay about 13.5 cents per $1,000 of assessed value for 10 years, or about $21 a year on a house assessed at $155,000.

The current tax rate for district operations is $3.19 per $1,000.

A former board president says he opposes the measure and would like to see equipment funded from within the operating budget as it has been. The last bond measure was in 1980.

"I think it's easy for them to continue with (the current) budget," said Bill Robertson. "I think this is a terrible time to be raising people's taxes."

Over the past 20 years, lease purchase agreements for major equipment have worked well for the district, said Robertson. And when the Talent Urban Renewal District is dissolved in 2016, the fire district will gain additional funds in property taxes, he said.

Robertson said he expects organized opposition to form.

The levy would allow the district to purchase three new fire engines at an estimated cost of $401,077 each; a new water tender at a cost of $230,000; and equipment for all of the new vehicles at $92,365.

Other expenses would be $99,536 for self-contained breathing apparatus equipment and $70,860 for vehicle extraction equipment, often called jaws of life.

The tender would be an addition to the district's fleet and would be placed at the station near Emigrant Lake.

Fire Chief Dan Marshall earlier had proposed a $2.5 million levy, but members asked him to come back with a reduced request. The $2.5 million would have included $130,000 for a rescue/grass/brush vehicle, three defibrillators for $75,000, 45 sets of protective clothing at $143,100 and other equipment.

"I like the ($1.8 million) a lot better," said board member Sean Curry. "In my mind, and a lot of people's, bond measures are for large, capital expenses. In the current environment we have to go with as tight a budget as we can."

Board member Richard Scowden also supported the reduced figure.

"I certainly think (it) meets our needs," said Scowden. "The rest of the equipment we can budget on an annual basis."

Marshall said public information sessions will be held before the vote.

"Our customers have the ultimate say," Marshall said. "My plan is to provide an objective approach."

District 5 encompasses 115 square miles of land from Medford to the California border. It provides service up to milepost 12 on Dead Indian Memorial Road and to milepost 16 on Highway 66. Talent was annexed into the district in 1998 and Phoenix was annexed in 2008.

Fire, vehicle accident and emergency medical services are provided by 23 paid firefighter/emergency medical technicians and 40 volunteers. In 2010, the district responded to 2,069 emergency calls.

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.