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3 Fire District 5 board members face challenges

TALENT — Three incumbents on Jackson County Fire District No. 5's board of directors face opposition in the May 21 election. Two of the challengers are former board members who opposed the district's unsuccessful equipment bond levy in November.

Among concerns raised by candidates are replacement of aging equipment, mounting operating costs and a need for more communication and public opinions.

Following defeat of the $1.8 million levy, the board plans to revert to a lease-purchase arrangement to buy one new engine rather than the three the levy would have supplied.

Former board member Bill Robertson is challenging incumbent Fred Baumgartner for Position 3.

Position 4 pits incumbent Sean Curry against former board member Bob Miller.

Incumbent Evan Petersen is challenged by Judy Baalman and Steve Schulman for Position 5.

All terms are four years.

Baumgartner, who lives south of Ashland, has served on the board for 17 years. Before that he was a volunteer fireman for six years.

The incumbent says the district is up to full staffing for the first time in several years. He wants to see that maintained as the district, which now incorporates Talent and Phoenix, has more coverage responsibilities.

"There's more than one plan to get equipment," said Baumgartner. "A bond measure could be downsized, but we need two first-line pumpers and another tanker."

Robertson, who lives southwest of Ashland, opposed the bond levy. He served 17 years on the board until 2011 and has been on Ashland's Forest Lands Commission. He fought wildfires while with the U.S. Forest Service.

New equipment should be purchased within the budget, said Robertson.

"With urban renewal coming to an end in Talent, over time (I think) that we can do it within the budget," said Robertson. "We don't need to go out for another levy."

Board policies have discouraged the public's opinion in the district, said Robertson. He would like to see board meetings held in the evening rather than afternoon.

Initially appointed to the board, Curry was voted on in May 2009. He says the board has to watch finances carefully because there are costs, such as retirement payments and health insurance, it can't control.

"I certainly don't have a strong feeling we should go back for another levy now that the voters did speak," said Curry, who lives in Talent.

Curry said he'd like to see more people attend the board's monthly meetings to offer additional public opinions.

Bob Miller, who lives south of Ashland, has been a volunteer firefighter with the district and served two terms on the board of directors. He opposed the bond levy and wants the district to fund equipment from within its budget.

"We don't need four new fire engines all at once," said Miller. "One at a time works fine."

Miller said he'd like the district to use a labor negotiator rather than the district's attorney for contract negotiations. Board meetings should be held in the evening to encourage public input, said Miller.

Judy Baalman, a 33-year Talent resident, has been on the district's Budget Committee for one year. She was Jackson County's library finance program manager for 18 years.

"What I'm interested in is finding a way to get what we need to keep the department viable and sustainable," said Baalman. "There's a lot more to it than just equipment."

Petersen, who lives in Talent, was appointed to the board in January. As a new homeowner, he wants to make sure the district is sustainable. He says it's important to get engines into service that are newer than 20 years old.

"At best, I would like to avoid the lease purchase, but given the fact that the majority of the voters aren't interested, I think that it's the only option that's available to us," said Petersen.

Information about the district is readily available by request, but Petersen said it would be nice to have more information online.

Schulman served on Phoenix City Council and on the Phoenix Urban Renewal Agency board from 2010-12. He's also on the Rogue Valley Transportation District Budget Committee.

When Talent's Urban Renewal District sunsets in 2016, the district will have more revenue, said Schulman.

"That will make a significant difference in what they have to go to the public for," said Schulman. "Right now, lease purchase is the avenue to explore."

District 5's board will meet at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 16, at 5811 S. Pacific Highway, in Talent.

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