Local Fire Departments Seek New District

Pat Hart Head
Hermiston Fire Chief Pat Hart explains to the city council Monday night the reasons behind a proposed fire district that would encompass the existing Hermiston and Stanfield districts.

[quote style=”2″]Hermiston-Stanfield District Would Mean Hike in Tax Rates[/quote]

Hermiston and Stanfield voters will determine next year whether or not to form a new fire district.

If passed in a November 2014 election, voters will also have approved a higher tax rate for the newly-created district. Hermiston Fire Chief Pat Hart spoke to the Hermiston City Council Monday night to explain the driving force behind a plan to put the creation of the new district before voters.

An analysis of both Hermiston and Stanfield’s fire departments found their respective financial conditions “to be poor.” The analysis, commissioned by both fire departments, was conducted in 2012 by Emergency Service Consulting International (ESCI). The analysis, in part, concludes:

“At current levels, expenditures in Hermiston Fire and Emergency Services (HFES) are forecast to exceed available revenue by $1.1 million by 2017. Similarly, ESCI’s projections indicate that Stanfield Fire Department (SFD) will exceed its revenues by 43 percent in the same time period.”

The solution, according to ESCI, is to increase tax revenue:

“Short of reductions in service delivery, additional resources will have to be obtained if the agencies are to continue to serve their communities as they do today. ESCI views combining HFES and SFD as feasible, but only if doing so includes an increase in tax rates.”

According to Hart, a 2012 study showed that the average tax rate for districts the size of Hermiston is $2.04 per $1,000. Hermiston’s is currently $1.20 per $1,000. The proposed fire district encompassing Hermiston and Stanfield will come with a recommended tax rate of $2 per $1,000.

Hart made a formal request Monday night to put the formation of the new district to voters in November 2014. State law requires approval by the city council before the issue can be placed on the ballot.

“We’re not asking that the city council say, ‘Yeah, let’s go out and raise taxes,’ ” Hart said. “We just need your approval so we can put it to the voters.”

Hart said it would be up to the two cities’ fire departments to convince voters of the need to form a new district and raise tax rates.

“We feel we can educate the public and when we do, we feel they will support it,” he said.

The council approved Hart’s request by a 7-0 vote.

“I think it’s a good move,” said City Councilor Frank Harkenrider.

In 2012, the Hermiston Fire Department responded to more than 2,900 emergency medical service calls and 390 fire- or rescue-related calls.