HERMISTON
Fire districts 
to try again 
on merger

Emersyn Aitkin, 5, sprays a fire hose with some assistance from paramedic Mark Johnson during a tour of the Hermiston fire station by Bethany Lutheran Preschool in February 2014.

A combined Hermiston-Stanfield fire district will be back on the ballot in May after being denied by Hermiston voters in 2014.

The new ballot measure would tax the district at $1.75 per $1,000 of assessed value, down from the $2 per $1,000 the district tried for a year ago, and add around-the-clock staffing to Hermiston’s two outlying stations.

Hermiston Fire & Emergency Services Chief Scott Stanton told the Hermiston City Council on Monday that the combined district would allow him to increase staffing levels at all three Hermiston fire stations.

Stanton said currently his department was averaging four delays of service a month when someone called for an ambulance or fire truck and there was no one available to respond. There were also 36 “code reds” a month when one more ambulance call would have resulted in a delay.

“Eventually it’s going to cost someone their life or the loss of their property,” Stanton said. “That’s just a fact.”

Hermiston Fire & Emergency Services was formed in 1998 with a tax rate of $1.20 per $1,000 of assessed value. Stanton said that is still the fire district rate today, while comparably-sized districts in the state are averaging $2.04 per $1,000.

Meanwhile, the cost of everything from PERS benefits to medical supplies has “increased dramatically,” he said.

The fire district also loses tax revenue because of the enterprise zone and urban renewal zone, while still having to protect the structures built in them.

He said Hermiston’s rate of 181 calls per year per firefighter was one of the highest in the state.

The new fire district would not raise taxes for Hermiston residents, who are already paying the maximum $10 per $1,000 allowed for city services, or for Stanfield residents who are already paying more than $1.75 for their district. Instead, compression would cost the city of Hermiston’s general fund about $136,000 and taxes would go up for residents of the district outside the city limits.

Stanton said about 70 percent of the money raised would go toward hiring six more people, allowing him to staff the Westland and Punkin Center stations 24/7. The move would decrease response times to those areas and keep more staff available at the main station.

The rest of the money would go toward capital costs like updated safety equipment and new rigs.

The new district would be called Umatilla County Fire District #1, but Stanton said the county would not be involved in running it.

“It will be the same people, same stations, same equipment,” he said.

After the presentation the city council unanimously approved a resolution in support of putting the question before the voters. Mayor Dave Drotzmann thanked Stanton and all of the fire district personnel present at the meeting for their service to the community.

“I know you work hard, and there’s not enough of you,” he said.

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Contact Jade McDowell at jmcdowell@eastoregonian.com or 541-564-4536.

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