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Bill would make it easier for fire districts to turn their neighbors into taxpayers

Fire truck parked in front of fire station.
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North Lincoln Fire and Rescue
North Lincoln Fire and Rescue is one of several rural fire protection districts asking the legislature to approve the bill.

Fire districts in Oregon would have an easier time annexing properties under a bill moving forward in Salem.

Rural fire districts rely on property taxes to fund their operation. But most crews will respond to a nearby blaze even when the property is not part of the district.

On an 18-8 vote, the Oregon Senate approved Senate Bill 1582, which would let those districts annex properties up to seven miles away from the fire station.

Sen. Lew Frederick, D-Portland, said people who live just outside a fire district get the benefit of fire protection without having to pay the tab.

“They are relying on their neighbors to pay and counting on the firefighters in rural fire protection districts, over 90 percent of whom are volunteers, to respond when they call anyway,” he said.

Fire districts can bill people for services if they live outside the district, but Frederick said it’s a time-consuming process that doesn’t always yield a payment.

Several fire districts testified in favor of the bill when it was before the Senate's Committee on Natural Resources and Wildfire Recovery.

"The state legislature should not continue to allow owners of developed properties to avoid funding emergency services benefitting their communities," said Ted Damewood, chief of the Glide Rural Fire Protection District in Douglas County.

The Association of Oregon Counties and the Oregon Farm Bureau testified against the measure, saying it would give fire districts too much power to annex property.

The bill now heads to the Oregon House. That's where a similar bill died during the 2021 session, when Democratic Representative Brad Witt of Clatskanie joined Republicans on the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee in opposing the bill.

Chris Lehman has been reporting on Oregon issues since 2006. He joined the KLCC news department in December, 2018. Chris was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and graduated from Temple University with a degree in journalism. His public broadcasting career includes stops in Louisiana and Illinois. Chris has filed for national programs including “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered.”