By SUE RYAN
News staff writer
September 9, 2006
The formation of a fire district for the town of Cascade Locks is now up to the voters.
Hood River County Commissioners unanimously voted Tuesday night to send the issue to the ballot for the Nov. 2 general election. City officials had requested the formation of a fire district outlining the borders of the town, which would assess a $1 per $1,000 levy to provide funding for operation of fire and ambulance services. Commissioner Carol York did raise some reservations about the issue before the vote was taken.
“I’m inclined to say yes because the city requested it,” she said. “But I’m concerned that there is time to get enough information by the ballot regarding the financial information for voters.”
Commissioner Les Perkins said he did not feel it was the county commissioners’ role to intervene in the matter.
“It’s their risk and if the fire department and city feel it’s time to move forward then voters have the right to vote,” he said.
York had questioned Cascade Locks Fire Chief Jeff Pricher about whether or not the city had studied the financial feasibility of such a district.
“No,” he replied.
Pricher had explained earlier during the final public hearing on the issue that the city currently paid for about half of what services were required. That meant the city has been running in the red to provide fire and ambulance services.
“We’ve never asked for anything before,” he said. “If we truly asked for what we need — it would be closer to $2 per $1,000 — they wouldn’t go for it.”
Under the proposal of the fire district, a few issues remain to be clarified. The issue of the city continuing to fund a portion of the district would have to be worked out. The issue of a potential casino and service agreement with the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs would have to be revisited. The final matter is that if voters do approve the fire district, there is not a board of directors running simultaneously on the ballot to oversee it.
Attorney Will Carey addressed this question after it was brought up by Cascade Locks resident Sandra Kelley.
“If it’s referred to the voters, there will be no applicants for the board because that wasn’t filed in time for this election,” Carey said. “The first election that could be held for a special district wouldn’t be until May.”
Carey said the county commission could appoint someone or some group, such as the current city council, to fulfill the board of directors’ role until the May election. However, the county commissioners did not make any such motion at the Tuesday meeting.
Kelley has been a frequent critic of the proposed fire district and was one of three people who spoke out against it during the public hearing. She reiterated her belief that the city is adding another layer of government it does not need and something it can’t afford.
“I’m willing to fund a fire department that the city needs but don’t understand why we need a district to do it,” she said.
She referenced a sewer project the city built 10 years ago as being triple the size that the population needed. There were no proponents of the fire district except for Pricher, who was fulfilling the city’s role.
City councilor Rob Brostoff, who is running for mayor but is also the target of a recall campaign in the town, did speak to the commissioners.
“I’m not up here as for or against the district,” he said. “But if anybody is in the position to decide, it’s the voters.”