Staffing a top priority for Ore. fire district allocating food tax revenue
The Cannon Beach Rural Fire Protection District now has around-the-clock staffing, with more positions expected to be added
By Nicole Bales
The Daily Astorian, Ore.
CANNON BEACH, Ore. — With the help of revenue from the city's prepared food tax, the Cannon Beach Rural Fire Protection District now has around-the-clock staffing, with more positions expected to be added.
The city and fire district evenly split revenue from the 5% tax on prepared food at restaurants and other businesses that voters narrowly approved in November 2021.
The fire district said its share would be used to help fund operations, starting with staffing, while the city plans to use its portion to cover the annual debt service for a new City Hall and police station.
Collection of the tax began in July, and in the first quarter, the fire district received $297,000. The funds allowed the district to hire three firefighters who rotate to provide 24/7 coverage.
Fire Chief Marc Reckmann said a lieutenant position, which was funded by a grant, is now being supported by the tax revenue. He also expects to hire a fire marshal by summer.
"The whole idea of the prepared food tax for the fire district was staffing," Reckmann said during a City Council meeting Tuesday night. "And we've done that. We now have one firefighter at the station 24 hours a day.
"I know that there is somebody there when I'm coming in as a duty officer. I know there is at least one person there. And as a volunteer coming in, they know there is someone there."
The fire district, like others on the North Coast, has faced a rising number of calls for service and a dwindling pool of volunteers.
Bob Heymann, the treasurer of the fire district's board, said the alarming trend pushed the district to pursue a hybrid staffing model with paid staff and volunteers.
He said the fire district responded to more than 600 calls last year, which is up 16% from the previous year and more than double over the past decade. Many of the calls, he added, are related to tourists.
Meanwhile, Heymann said, the issue of finding and retaining volunteer firefighters is exacerbated in Cannon Beach, in part because of the high cost of living. He said it is also harder for many volunteers to leave work.
In the best case, he said the fire district had 50% participation among volunteers.
"As a new board member, this is an alarming trend to me," Heymann said. "And as a new resident of Cannon Beach — I've lived here now for just over two years — it was also a very alarming trend to me."
With the three paid firefighters, he said there is a more predictable response. He said the off-duty firefighters can also be called in for overtime if needed.
However, Heymann said the fire district, which has historically relied on property tax dollars and grants, is still working toward establishing other stable funding sources to address the increasing call load.
The fire district may pursue several options, including asking voters to approve an increase to a five-year levy when it comes up for renewal in 2025.
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