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Fighting fires costs money

So far, Jacksonville residents have been unwilling to pay for protection

Expensive homes, historic buildings, residents who work elsewhere: These are not ideal conditions for a town with a volunteer fire department.

But they are fact in Jacksonville, where too many of the 2,200 residents seem to be walking around with their fingers stuck in their ears on this subject.

Michael and Mary Kell are not among them. The Kells, who own The Good Bean coffee shop, lost their &

36;400,000 home to fire this spring when it took the volunteer force 10 minutes to get organized and reach their house.

Now they are leading a push to convince others that they should pay for a real firefighting force.

The surprising thing about this is that they take convincing at all.

If any city is poorly set up to rely on volunteers, it's Jacksonville.

— The median value of a Jacksonville home is &

36;280,000, among the highest in the state. People who can afford to live there often work elsewhere, so there's no chance they'd hear the siren that calls volunteers to action. And the city itself is no run-of-the-mill place to protect: The history that makes it Jacksonville also makes many buildings vulnerable to fire.

Yet Jacksonville residents turned down a levy to fund fire services in 2002. This year, legal challenges from a dozen of them have kept the city's hands off a monthly surcharge levied to hire a firefighting staff.

Even after the Kells' fire, residents seem more intent on watching their pocketbooks than finding a solution to an obvious danger.

This is, for the record, despite the fact that Jacksonville residents have an undeniable deal when it comes to city taxes. They pay &

36;1.84 per &

36;1,000 of assessed valuation, or about &

36;515 on a &

36;280,000 home. In Medford, someone who owns a similarly valued house would pay about three times as much.

Cities can't provide services without collecting money. Jacksonville residents won't get a real fire department without paying for it.

Volunteer fire departments are largely relics of an earlier time, when homes were modest, residents worked down the street and communities were more closely knit than they are today.

They're still a reasonable answer in some places. But if Jacksonville needs proof volunteers are no longer right for it, the Kells unfortunately can provide it.

Removing all doubt

Oregon motorists no longer need to wonder what to do when they reach a school zone. It's simple: Slow down.

Beginning July 1, school-zone speed limits of 20 mph will be in effect 24 hours a day, seven days a week on roads with posted limits of 30 mph or less. That means most school zones in residential neighborhoods. In areas with limits of 35 mph and faster, the school-zone speed will be in effect at specific times or when lights flash.

That should make it easy on those drivers who weren't sure what to do when the sign said 20 mph when children are present.

Oregon Department of Transportation officials hope to have new signs installed before school starts in the fall. We hope the signs include the words at all times, so there can be no doubt about the law.

Meanwhile, drivers should forget about saving a second or two by speeding through a school zone. No one's time is more important than a child's life.