Frequently asked questions regarding the combining of the Helix Rural Fire Protection District, East Umatilla County Rural Fire Protection District, and the City of Athena Volunteer Fire Department
“I thought this was already done last summer?”
Last summer the districts held Town Hall meetings to determine if customers would support the operational combining of the districts. And, since July 1, 2019, the above listed entities have been responding, delivering service, training and managing as if it was one district.
“How does this change save money?”
Simply put, by combining three fire districts into one, there are time, effort and money savings for the tax payer. Oregon Budgeting law dictates how, when and by whom public budgets are to be created, reviewed and approved. There are laws requiring us to have our financial records audited by accountants. Instead of three accounting bills, we could immediately save funds by having only one.
“Would there be a headquarters station, who pays for it and where would it be located?”
Yes there would be a headquarters station. One of the districts already owns build-able land, at the corner of Banister Road and Mill street. The building plan we hope to use is based on the Heppner Volunteer Fire Station that was built in 2016 for a cost of $945,000. We are trying to get those funds donated to the district. “Will the Fire District remain a volunteer organization?”
Yes, it is very likely our fire protection will always be provided by a predominantly volunteer organization. There simply isn’t enough population or tax base to support a union. (There are a few full-time employees, such as the full time ambulance medics, a couple of the administrative staff, and the vehicle/building maintenance person)
“How does this change affect the ambulance when I call 911?”
First responders and firefighters will both come to your aid; in addition to the on-duty ambulance staffing medics. And, since the preservation of - “LIFE” is the #1 priority in the Mission Statement of the Fire Districts, assisting the ambulance crew on a 911 call for medical help is exactly the kind of reason a First Responder and/or Firefighter exists.
“Why not just keep the IGA in place?”
For a few reasons: The three elected boards and one city council saw long-term drawbacks to keeping the IGA (Inter-Governmental-Agreement) in place; and agreed it would be temporary. Each area is not taxed the same, for the services received. Changing to one all-including district would make a fair and level “playing field of contribution” for all district property owners. The IGA causes three sets of financial records to be kept. This is a very difficult task on our bookkeeping contractor. By combining districts, one annual accounting review of our financial records (required by Oregon Law) could take place and save us thousands of dollars – immediately. We would save funds also through an “economy of scale” (Buying certain items in bulk/mass quantities). This would cut back on time and save money with long term purchasing options.
“What other organizational efficiencies would the merger create?”
Quite a few: (they are underlined in the text below) 1) National Fire Protection Agency – While this is agency provides a guideline, fire districts are not required to be in full compliance. we strive to stay in compliance, but are not required to be. In the past, some agencies were rarely in compliance. 2) Occupational Safety and Health Administration – we must stay in compliance. In the past, it has been a challenge for some agencies to maintain compliance. 3) Grant Writing services – in the last calendar year, our grant writing efforts have brought appx $83,000.00 to the East Umatilla County RFPD. This has resulted in upgrades in vehicles, equipment and PPE the District could not purchase on tax revenue. If we are one agency, those results would be a shared across a region, rather than one district’s windfall. Also, the EUCRFPD has applied for the AFG (Assistance to Firefighters Grant) five times. In 2019, we were successful for the first time. EUCRFPD requested and was awarded a grant for a new Water Tender; cost is $325,000.00. It will be here on July 15, 2020. 4) “Volunteerism” – its not the same as it was just 15 or 20 years ago. There are less people with lifestyles that allow for the time and dedication required to be a First Responder/Firefighter. Careers, families and other religious and chosen civic obligations make finding 911 dedicated people difficult. However, we have a unique condition in place now: while there have been responders who have chosen to move on (due to the reasons listed), we have benefitted from an abundance of new volunteers, who are willing to make the self and social sacrifices needed to be a regular contributing member to a service providing organization. We would like to continue this momentum of service. Belonging and contributing to a service providing organization (ie, something larger than yourself) carries its own reward. 5) Cost – the very fundamentally needed services of fire protection, and of Emergency Medical Service, will never be as affordable as it is from a predominantly volunteer organization. Our challenge is not to allow the costs of these services; provided mostly by volunteers, to outpace our willingness to fund these services.
“Who will be in charge or making the decisions affecting the district?”
You will be. Because, the board members are publicly elected. They will always be the governing body.
“How has the existing IGA thing helped me?”
We have reduced the time from when we are dispatched to your 911 call, to when we arrive:
AVERAGE TIME (FOR ALL AGENCIES) FROM DISPATCH TO ARRIVAL: 2019 - 11.91 MINUTES (with a 72% increase in call volume) 2018 - 20.72 MINUTES 2017 - 23.13 MINUTES (the response area increased to appx 430 SQ miles) 2016 - 15.53 MINUTES 2015 - 18.04 MINUTES
This information is based on all emergency response reports entered into the Oregon State Fire Marshall’s emergency response database, from 2015 thru 2019, for the following agencies:
*East Umatilla County Rural Fire Protection District *Helix Rural Fire Protection District
“If this vote passes, and there is a tax increase, how much more would I have to pay?”
District $ paid/1,000 Initial tax Since Proposed In property value increase
EUCRFPD $1.00/1,000 $1/1,000 1995 no change
Residents City of Athena of Athena $0/1,000 0 was created $1/1,000
HRFPD $.43/1,000 .43/1,000 1974 .57/1,000
This proposed change in taxes paid would be an increase for some, a completely new tax for some, and no change in tax paid at all for others.
In the Helix RFPD, the current taxes paid for fire protection is .43/$1,000 of property value. For example, a typical house of $150,000 in the city of Helix pays $64.50 per year for fire protection. If this new district is voted in, the tax on the same home would increase by $85.50.
WHAT WOULD THE CHANGE MEAN TO ME? (based on a typical $150,000 home)
Weekly Monthly each 6 months Each Year
Helix RFPD $1.62 $7.15 $42.75 $85.50
Residents Of Athena $2.88 $12.50 $75.00 $150.00
Please remember for what reasons the 911 system is activated, and what kind of help citizens call your volunteer fire department for:
* Medical 911s – firefighters and first responders assist the ambulance crew in case they need assistance * Structure Fires * Wild Land (Forest or field) Fires * Motor Vehicle Accidents * Medic Assist (to give the ambulance help; if needed; when they are called) * Hazardous Condition (Flammable liquid spill, chemical release, electrical problem, biological hazard, bomb threat, illegal burning complaint) * False Alarms – Good Intent Calls * Severe Weather or Natural Disaster * UTLs (Unable To Locate)
To Review, if this vote to combine the fire districts does pass, property owners would contribute for fire protection (and other listed hazard protection) at the same rate ($1.00 per thousand of valuation).
Helix RFPD at $1/1000 on a typical $150,000 home = $150 per year City of Athena at $1/1000 on a typical $150,000 home = $150 per year East Umatilla RFPD at $1/1000 on a typical $150,000 home = $150 per year
EAST UMATILLA FIRE & RESCUE 103 W. Main St. PO Box 411 Weston, OR 97886 (541) 566-2311