Firefighters and elected leaders of Warrenton Fire Protection District say a $10 million bond issue is necessary to replace unreliable fire trucks, phase out expiring equipment, and update aging …
Firefighters and elected leaders of Warrenton Fire Protection District say a $10 million bond issue is necessary to replace unreliable fire trucks, phase out expiring equipment, and update aging facilities. If nothing changes, district officials say more and more money will sink into trying to maintain failing machinery.
Bonds are a type of loan that a public agency promises to pay back using tax funding. Voter approval this April would give the fire district permission to raise its property tax levy by an estimated 24 to 26 cents per $100 assessed value. That equates to about $91 to $99 per year for a $200,000 home.
This bond would also have a 20-year expiration, meaning the extra tax would end automatically unless voters renew it.
Representatives of the fire district who spoke with The Record this week said the district has placed the $10 million bond issue on the April election ballot because the emergency district’s funding has been stretched to its limit just to “tread water” supporting a 24/7 rescue crew and maintaining the vehicles, equipment, and facilities it has. The district has no reserve funding left and no plan for how to fund future necessities.
“The equipment is getting older, and we’re spending more and more money just to keep it operating,” said board member Don Owenby. “Our finances are as thin as they can get, and anybody can look at the books to see.”
The fire district has struggled to balance its finances since 2014, when the district significantly expanded its paid staff to provide 24/7 coverage. District leaders say the move was needed to respond to increasing demand for emergency rescue services in a growing community.
The fire district has run numerous tax proposals in the time since then in order to balance its budget, but voters have declined each time. Owenby said the board of directors is trying to modify its request in response to voters’ previous objections.
“One of the bigger complaints that we’ve had is that we’re asking for a tax increase and it’s going to be forever. So now we’re talking a bond issue with a sunset — this is a 20-year bond, and there’s potential to pay it off earlier,” Owenby explained.
Fellow board member Stacey Blondin said population growth in Warrenton, and the demand it puts on the fire district, have overburdened a budget that was originally meant for a semi-volunteer rescue service.
“Growth in our community is not going to stop. Everybody is moving here from the east, and we are tapped out,” Blondin said.
Firefighter Captain Matt Dabbs said he sees firsthand every day how financial struggle is hampering the district’s emergency response. Vehicles are breaking down — sometimes while rescuers are on their way to emergency calls — and gear is passing the age that it is guaranteed to be reliable, Dabbs said.
“Several times, we’ve been at zero (functional) trucks and we almost had to borrow a truck from a neighboring district,” Dabbs said, adding that smaller issues are also more frequent. “Today a door latch broke on our truck and we had to use a seat belt to keep it closed.
“When you call 911 and you’re having the worst day of your life, you don’t want a vehicle responding that may not make it to your house,” Dabbs added.
If this $10 million bond issue passes, Fire Chief Anthony Hayeslip said it should take care of all of the district’s priority needs for the next 10 years. The bond funding can’t be used for personnel expenses, only for vehicles, equipment, and facilities, Hayeslip added.
He said district leaders have drafted a priority list of vehicle and equipment purchases, as well as needed repairs and improvements for the district’s fire stations. Here are some of the items on the list:
• Replacing up to three fire engines, some of which are multiple decades old.
• Replacing aging or outdated rescue equipment carried on the trucks.
• Repairing or replacing aging HVAC, water, and electronic systems at the fire stations.
• Structural repairs at the district's main fire station.
• Repaving deteriorating parking and drive lanes at fire stations.
• Other vehicle replacements if budget allows.
• Other facility upgrades if budget allows.
Hayeslip further stated that the bond would also consolodate about $1.1 million in pre-existing debt that is currently paid out of the fire district's operating funds. Doing so will free up funds to rebuild the fire district’s emergency reserves and begin planning for future needs, Hayeslip remarked.
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