By editorial board • 

Yes vote on Mac fire merger stands to save homes, lives

Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue has come to stand second in size among Oregon fire and ambulance operations only to the Portland Fire Bureau.

It has come to serve 542,000 residents spread across 390 square miles in four counties — Multnomah, Washington, Clackamas and Yamhill. To serve 11 cities, including Beaverton, Tigard, Tualatin, Sherwood, Newberg, West Linn and Wilsonville, along with a large swath of rural real estate. To deploy 442 medics and firefighters on 95 rigs out of 28 stations.

There’s good reason for that. And it cuts to the heart of the case for Measures 36-226 and 36-227 on local May 16 ballots — measures which would serve to merge the McMinnville Fire Department and McMinnville Rural Fire Protection District into the newly constituted McMinnville Fire District.

A cadre of dedicated volunteers was once sufficient to provide passable fire and ambulance service to rural communities and the hubs serving to meet their commercial needs. But the supply of farmhands able to drop everything and rush to the local fire hall on short notice has dwindled into near insignificance.

Meanwhile, response time expectations have risen sharply. In today’s America, citizens count on highly trained professional personnel show up in a matter of minutes, hopefully five or less.

The growing sophistication of techniques and equipment has compounded the disconnect by exponentially increasing demands on financing and training. That’s particularly true on the ambulance side, where the threat of litigation effectively rules out dispatching volunteers.

It’s gotten to the point where even cities the size of Beaverton have a hard time managing on their own. It often makes more sense for them to pool resources with their neighbors, streamlining the command structure, justifying purchase of more specialized apparatus, enhancing flexibility and coordination, and reaping economy-of-scale financial benefits.

That’s what led Tualatin and Beaverton to first merge their own rural and urban operations, then to join forces to create Tualatin Valley in 1989. It’s also what led Newberg to sign on in 2016.

There is already precedent for McMinnville to serve as an emergency services hub in Yamhill County. For some time now, the County Sheriff’s Office has been providing contract law enforcement services in outlying areas, and the McMinnville Fire Department has been following suit with ambulance services, in addition to fire services in the case of McMinnville Rural.

Measure 36-226 would dissolve the rural district and eliminate its taxing authority of 97 cents per thousand dollars of assessed valuation, effective July 1. Measure 36-227 would simultaneously create a new district, absorbing all of the personnel and assets of the McMinnville Fire Department, along with those of McMinnville Rural, and establish a tax base of $2 per thousand to provide funding.

Each measure depends on passage of the other. So McMinnville Rural will also be electing board members to serve in the event one of the measures fails, and the new merged district board members to serve in the event both pass.

The city currently devotes $1.50 of its $5.02 property tax assessment to fire and ambulance service. It would retain its full taxing authority with the merger, but its governing council has opted to suspend the fire and ambulance portion, rather than redirect it in part or full, for at least the first year.

The vote on the one-year suspension was unanimous, but the council split three ways on any future reallocation. Three councilors favored restoring and repurposing the $1.50 over a three-year period, one fully restoring in no more than two years, and the other three hearing from constituents before authorizing any kind of reallocation.

The move would augment staffing, upgrade equipment, add substations, increase efficiency and cut response times across 95 square miles counting 40,000 residents. Long overdue, it would serve a critical need we don’t see getting addressed any other way, at least not in the near term.

In our view, the proposed merger represents a sound investment both for those living inside city limits and those living in the surrounding rural area outside.

And that view is so widely shared it has generated broad support with no organized opposition. Voters’ Pamphlet endorsers include County Commissioners Mary Starrett and Kit Johnston, Sheriff Tim Svenson, Police Chief Matt Scales, Fire Chief Rich Leipfert and the McMinnville Chamber.

We urge affected rural and urban residents to join forces to deliver their stamp of approval. One day, their very lives may depend on it.


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