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Fire District 5 gets money for Neil Creek station remodel

file photoJackson County Fire district 5 volunteer firefighter Dale Grimes Firefighters douses the second floor of a vacant house that burned at the corner of North Church and Fifth streets in Phoenix.

More firefighters will be positioned at Jackson County Fire District 5’s station on Neil Creek south of Ashland after an upcoming remodel is completed. The work is largely made possible by a $1.7 million grant from Business Oregon to reinforce the building seismically.

Presently only four firefighters can be based at the station. Six will be housed with the capacity for more after the remodel, said District 5 Fire Chief Charles Hanley. Besides the seismic updates, work includes an expanding living area, a decontamination room, new emergency generator with housing, exercise area and additional bath facilities. The metal building is estimated to be 50 to 60 years old.

“Right now, we are already at capacity at that particular station. The Neil Creek station responds for all kind of stuff along Interstate 5 going down to the (California) border. We get multiple calls sometimes at the same time. It can be very hard to provide services.” said District Baord Chair Vicki Purslow. “This allows us to expand the number of dorms there and free up space for another rig and have more people on duty when we get calls.”

The building now is about 3,000 square feet and can house three vehicles. There is a small mezzanine and one bathroom. Plans call for installation of a second-floor of slightly fewer than 1,000 square feet. Water storage capacity will be increased to help deal with a low output well at the site.

Current facilities are functional, but in sore need of improvement, Purslow said.

“If you need help, want to get a burn permit, you were in (the crew’s) living room,” said Purslow. “There was a whole lack of privacy.”

“When the project is finished, we can house six with an overflow for another six for our summer crews,” said Hanley. A grant the state awarded for an apprenticeship program will boost firefighter numbers.

A project manager is currently handling design work. Hanley anticipates the project could go out for bid in October. Costs for work beyond seismic reinforcement is estimated at $500,000 and grant funding for that will also be sought.

Besides the remodel at Neil Creek, the district will gain a new fire station in Phoenix and have repairs done to the main station outside Talent after it was damaged in the Almeda fire.

A sleeping quarters next to the Phoenix station was destroyed by the Almeda fire. The fire district and the city of Phoenix collaborated to secure a state grant from that will fund a $13.8 million building to house the Phoenix Police Department, city administrative offices and fire district personnel and equipment in one building rather than the four that are currently spread across the West 2nd Street location. The district leases space from the city.

More than 100 holes up to the diameter of a baseball were burned into the main station’s roof. A contract will likely be awarded when the district’s board of directors meets July 20. A new roof would cost about $300,000, with the bulk of the money coming from FEMA and the rest from insurance. The work should be completed by the end of the year, Hanley said.

Funding for improvements comes at the same time the district is cutting back its budget due to a loss of tax revenues caused by property destruction in the Almeda fire. The district includes Talent and Phoenix, both of which suffered heavy losses of housing and commercial property in the fire resulting in decreased assessed value for the tax base.

Assessed property value in the district, which covers 115 square miles in south Jackson County, declined by over $400 million. Assessed valuation is $1,905,397.995. for the current fiscal year. For 2021-22 the district anticipates tax revenues $5,285,000, down $807,700 from fiscal year 2020-21. The district taxes at a rate of $3.20 per $1,000 of valuation.

A $1.5- million emergency fire loan from FEMA will help stabilize the budget over the current and next fiscal year. The loan needs to be repaid within five years, although it can be extended to a 10-year schedule. To cope with reduced funds, the district will cut supply and services expenses by $300,000, overtime costs by $50,000 and make other savings. During spring, the board authorized a line of credit to secure bridge loans if they were needed, but it was never used.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tbommwriter@gmail.com.