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Applegate fire officials praise voter support

Fire Chief Brett Fillis was pleased when voters in Applegate Valley Fire District No. 9 overwhelmingly approved a five-year operating levy in the Nov. 2 election.

But he wasn't particularly surprised, given the widespread support the district has received over the years.

"We feel blessed in a lot of ways," he said. "We do have a lot of support but we don't take it for granted. We worked at it hard. We feel really good about the 74 percent."

That's right, some 74 percent of the voters in the large district approved the levy of 92 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation for operations and minor improvements beginning July 1, 2014. The current 5-year operating levy expires at the end of June.

"I've always felt good about the community support we get, but I didn't expect 74 percent," said Fillis, the district fire chief for the past 18 years. "That surprised me."

Some volunteers called district patrons while others sent out e-mails supporting the levy, he observed.

Statewide, it was one of eight fire district levies approved of Nov. 2, according to an overview by the League of Oregon Cities. Two other fire districts had levies that failed, it noted.

Created in 1981, the Applegate Valley fire district covers a rural area of about 10,000 residents throughout the Applegate Valley.

Although the lion's share of the district is in Jackson County, about 20 percent is in Josephine County, stretching halfway between Provolt and Murphy on the west end of the valley. To the east, the district extends to Jacksonville and south to Applegate Lake.

"It didn't carry at the same amount in Josephine County but it never has," he said. "It has always been a couple of percentage points lower."

The levy approval in Josephine County was roughly 58 percent while district voters in Jackson County supported it by slightly more than 76 percent, he noted.

It was the only item on the ballot in Jackson County while district voters in Josephine County had four other measures to decide.

"It's a levy we've had to renew every five years," said Fillis, a 1979 graduate of Rogue River High School. "This was the fourth one. They have always passed in the past but not by 74 percent."

After Oregon voters approved statewide measures in 1997 that resulted in a 21.4 percent reduction in the district budget, the district proposed a 5-year operating levy in 1998 which called for a $1 per thousand of assessed value. It passed easily, as did levies of 85 cents per thousand in 2002 and 2008, Fillis said.

The passage of the levy will allow the district to continue to staff its headquarters fire station in Ruch around the clock, he said.

"Had it not passed, there would have been some tough decisions to be made by the board," Fillis said.

Now that the campaign is over, they've started another one — an annual effort to recruit more volunteer firefighters.

"We pulled up the levy signs — now we have signs out asking for volunteers," he said.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.