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Rural areas' fire districts up for vote.

Byline: RANDI BJORNSTAD The Register-Guard

DRAIN - It's going to take votes on four measures in the Nov. 5 general election to figure out whether Drain, Yoncalla and Rice Hill will become one for the purposes of providing fire and ambulance services to their residents.

Residents of the Rice Hill Rural Fire Protection District will vote on whether to merge with the Drain district - that's Measure 10-32. In turn, Drain voters will decide whether to merge with Rice Hill, via Measure 10-34.

Then Yoncalla residents will cast their ballots for merging with the Drain Rural Fire Protection District - Measure 10-33 - and Drain voters will return the favor when they decide Measure 10-35.

"It is kind of a mish-mash now," admitted Rance Pilley, chief of the Drain Rural Fire Protection District and one of the only paid fire and emergency response personnel in the northern Douglas County area.

"Right now, Drain provides both fire and ambulance service in its own district, and we also provide ambulance response for Yoncalla, Rice Hill and Elkton. We cover about 900 square miles altogether."

Putting all three districts together into one new district - with the exception of Elkton, which declined to join the maneuver - would save everyone significant amounts of money, Pilley said.

"For example, we have volunteer firefighters from the Yoncalla and Rice Hill districts who are also emergency medical technicians for us in Drain," he said. "That means we end up double-insuring those people, because each district has to have its own insurance."

The districts already train together and often respond to each other's emergencies, so that's another reason it makes sense to merge, Pilley said.

"We had a citizen advisory committee to study the issue; it consisted of one board member and one citizen-at-large from each district," he said. "They did all the research about taxes and service and then recommended to the different boards that they merge.

"All three boards held public hearings, and nobody spoke against the idea."

Under the proposal, Pilley would become chief of the unified district, although Rice Hill's volunteer chief, Walt Wilcox, would continue to coordinate services at that fire hall.

Yoncalla hasn't had a chief for several months now - Pilley has been acting chief for that department - so the merger wouldn't affect leadership there.

Financially, things would remain much the same for the districts. The Douglas County assessor has calculated that the permanent tax rate for the new district would be about $1.20 per $1,000 of assessed property value, which would mean a slight decrease for Drain area residents from their current rate and a slight increase - less than $1 a month on a home valued at $100,000 - for people in Yoncalla and Rice Hill. Taxpayers in the Drain district now pay about $1.30 per $1,000 of assessed value, while their counterparts in Rice Hill pay $1.13 and those in Yoncalla $1.11.

To achieve the merger of the Drain and Yoncalla departments, voters must pass both measures 10-33 and 10-35. Likewise, measures 10-32 and 10-34 must be approved for Drain and Rice Hill to join forces. Should one combination fail, the merger between Drain and the other department will go forward, Pilley said.

MEASURES 10-32, 10-33, 10-34 AND 10-35

PROPOSED BY: Drain Rural Fire Protection District, Yoncalla Rural Fire Protection District, Rice Hill Rural Fire Protection District

WHAT IT WOULD DO: The measures would authorize the rural fire departments of the three communities to merge their services, sharing paid staff, volunteers, equipment training and financial support. A new permanent tax rate would give the new district property tax revenues of about $222 million annually, of which about 57 percent would come from the Drain area, 21 percent from Rice Hill and 22 percent from Yoncalla. Existing debt for equipment and buildings now owed by individual departments would remain the responsibility of residents in the original districts until those debts have been retired. Rice Hill has no bonded indebtedness.

WHAT IT WOULD COST: The new permanent tax rate for the merged district has been estimated at about $1.20 per $1,000 of assessed property value, meaning a taxpayer with a house assessed at $100,000 would pay about $120 annually for fire and ambulance service. That would be a slight decrease for Drain area residents, who now pay about $1.30 per $1,000, and a slight increase - about $10 per year - for residents of Rice Hill and Yoncalla, who now pay rates of about $1.13 and $1.11, respectively.

CAPTION(S):

INSIDE Fern Ridge Library's operating levy also is on the ballot / 2B MEASURES 10-32, 10-33, 10-34 AND 10-35 PROPOSED BY: Drain Rural Fire Protection District, Yoncalla Rural Fire Protection District, Rice Hill Rural Fire Protection District WHAT IT WOULD DO: The measures would authorize the rural fire departments of the three communities to merge their services, sharing paid staff, volunteers, equipment training and financial support. A new permanent tax rate would give the new district property tax revenues of about $222 million annually, of which about 57 percent would come from the Drain area, 21 percent from Rice Hill and 22 percent from Yoncalla. Existing debt for equipment and buildings now owed by individual departments would remain the responsibility of residents in the original districts until those debts have been retired. Rice Hill has no bonded indebtedness. WHAT IT WOULD COST: The new permanent tax rate for the merged district has been estimated at about $1.20 per $1,000 of assessed property value, meaning a taxpayer with a house assessed at $100,000 would pay about $120 annually for fire and ambulance service. That would be a slight decrease for Drain area residents, who now pay about $1.30 per $1,000, and a slight increase - about $10 per year - for residents of Rice Hill and Yoncalla, who now pay rates of about $1.13 and $1.11, respectively.
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Title Annotation:Merger: Ambulance and fire service might combine in Rice Hill, Drain and Yoncalla.; Elections
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Oct 28, 2002
Words:984
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