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Applegate fire levy backers worry about voter turnout

APPLEGATE — A levy renewal to fund 24-hour operations of the Applegate Valley Rural Fire District is the only thing on the ballot for a Nov. 5 special election, and that's a worry for supporters.

The requested 92 cents per $1,000 of assessed value would generate a third of the district's $2.2 million budget next fiscal year, and failure of the levy could eliminate 24-hour coverage and some key staff positions, said district Fire Chief Brett Fillis.

"It's literally about a third of our entire budget. If for some reason it didn't pass, we would most likely lose 24-hour staffing and some of our full-time people," Fillis said.

"We have a lot of volunteers, but any cuts to our paid staff positions would have an impact on not only immediate service delivery but other functions, such as training our volunteers and keeping a number of our programs up and running."

Supporters aren't concerned that the district's 10,000-some rural customers are opposed to having 24-hour protection, said district office manager Cary Chaput.

But with nothing else on the ballot in Jackson County — and only a handful of measures for customers who reside on the Josephine County side of the district — supporters are worried people might be lackadaisical about returning ballots.

The renewable levy originated in 1998 after a pair of statewide ballot measures reduced the local tax base by 21 percent. The measure began as a $1 levy, in addition to a permanent levy of $1.6787 per $1,000 of assessed value. In 2002 and 2008, the levy amount dropped to 85 cents.

Chaput said a 7-cent increase, to 92 cents, for the renewable levy would maintain day-to-day operations at current levels.

"We're not worried about whether we have community support for our funding," she said. "We've always had good percentages and good response in our fire district, but our concern is that because it's the only thing on the ballot that people won't think there's anything to vote on and they won't make the time to go out and vote or turn in ballots."

Fillis said the district is tightly run and that every dollar in funding is put to good use.

"We started doing the extra levy to begin with so we could provide 24-hour protection. This levy won't fund anything special in terms of capital improvements or anything. It will just keep things going," he said.

"It will allow us to continue round-the-clock coverage and save a little bit each year for repairs and upgrades. ... We just hope everyone sees their ballot in the mail and takes the time to go turn it in."

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at buffyp76@yahoo.com.