Rich Leipfert: Local fire district merger best way to keep community safe

News-Register file photo##
News-Register file photo##


During my 15 years as fire chief for the city of McMinnville, my goal has been to keep the community safe with the help of highly trained and experienced fire and ambulance staff and well-resourced stations and response vehicles.

Unfortunately, budgets have continued to tighten over the years. Often, capital and staffing needs have been put on hold due to lack of tax revenue.

As a result, response times have been increasing. There have been insufficient staff resources to fully meet emergency needs. And we have lacked the reserves to fund capital projects such as substation and vehicle replacements.

All of these constraints put the community at risk. Delayed response due to lack of resources could mean the difference between life and death while a resident waits for an ambulance or fire crew.

To determine how to best meet the needs of the community, the McMinnville Fire Department and McMinnville Rural Fire Protection District undertook a more than three year review, with the help of third-party experts, to determine the best ways to provide high quality and responsive fire and emergency services to residents of their respective service areas.

Currently, the McMinnville Rural Fire Protection District is separate from the McMinnville Fire Department, but contracts with the department for services. The study found that creating a new special district to serve both urban and rural constituents would best provide resources, reducing fire and medical response times by half and ensuring trained local emergency medical staff is available for every emergency call.

The new district would establish a new tax rate. If passed, the merger would increase the local property tax rate for fire services from an average of $1.50 per thousand dollars of assessed value to $2 per thousand for city residents.

The city would retain the current $1.50 of taxing authority. It plans to engage the community to determine how this authority would be reallocated before the measure goes in front of voters in May 2023.

Residents of the McMinnville Rural Fire Protection District would see an increase from 97.35 cents per thousand to $2 per thousand.

Voters will likely have the opportunity to decide this matter, as well as elect members of an independent fire board to oversee the new district, in the May 2023 election.

Having put years into this effort, I appreciate the opportunity to discuss this with residents and answer questions readers may have about what this will mean for our community. I encourage you to reach out to me directly at fireconsolidation@mcminnvilleoregon.gov.

Guest writer Rich Leipfert has served as a municipal fire chief since 1996 and headed up the McMinnville Fire Department since 2008. Prior to launching his civilian career, he served as a fire protection specialist with the U.S. Air Force from 1982 to 1994. He holds an associate’s degree in fire science and bachelor’s degree in management. A graduate of the National Fire Academy’s Executive Fire Officer Program, he has served on the boards of both the Alaska and Oregon fire chiefs associations. 


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