Warrenton Fire tax rejected again

File photo.
Adam Rollins
Staff Writer

Warrenton Fire Protection District on Tuesday was handed the latest setback in what has become a series of rejections at the polls.

The fire district had asked voters to approve a 15-cent property tax levy increase to help the district restore its depleted finances. And for the sixth time in seven years, voters turned down a tax request from the district, voting 864 in favor and 1,054 against.

“Warrenton Fire is the only fire district around that has not been able to pass an increase for funding,” district officials wrote on Facebook after the tally. “However, your Warrenton firefighters will continue to serve you past your expectations and we will continue to improve this community together with the ones who support us.”

Before the vote was counted, Chief Anthony Hayeslip said he’s learned to temper his hopes for tax propositions, although each time he’s been encouraged by supporters in the community.

“I feel like there are more people getting educated about it and understanding that this is something we need,” Hayeslip commented. He said this time, the fire district tried to provide a steady stream of information about why people should support the proposition, without “beating people over the head” about it. 

But those efforts haven’t been enough to overcome consistent resistance from voters who believe the fire district should be managing its finances differently.

The tax increase would have brought in estimated additional revenue of $429,000 annually. The cash-strapped fire district says it needs the additional funds to adequately maintain its facilities and vehicles, while in the long run increasing its roster of volunteer and paid firefighters to meet the needs of a growing area.

As it is, the Warrenton fire district has been running a deficit for several years, with the district’s reserves now depleted. The board of directors voted in January to put their Pendleton fire station up for sale to plug the holes in the district’s finances for a couple more years.

District leaders have said multiple times that laying off paid firefighters will only be considered as a last resort.

It’s been 20 years since Warrenton Fire Protection District had a tax increase. The 2001 tax was put in place to support a paid staff that’s about 1/3 the size of the district’s current staff.

Stepping into this financial quagmire is Stacey Blondin, who will be joining the fire district’s board of directors as a new member in April. Blondin said she hopes to bring a new perspective to help the district find its direction, mend fences and grow support in the community.

“I think it’s going to take a lot of sitting down, and re-analyzing everything, and getting some advice from outside (about) what we can do, what’s even possible,” Blondin said. “Liquidating and selling off assets — that’s not going to get them very far.”

Blondin said the fire district needs to develop a long-term solution to be able to serve a wave of population growth coming into the area. Right now, she said, the district is behind where it needs to be.

“We see it in our real estate office (where I work), how many people are trying to come to our county, and oh my gosh, we are not ready,” Blondin said.

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