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Lebanon Fire District appeals to voters to pass levy

A monument welcomes people to Lebanon, Oregon. It reads: "Welcome to Lebanon. Incorporated 1878. The City that friendliness built."
Chris Lehman
The Lebanon Fire District serves Lebanon and surrounding areas in Linn County.

Lebanon Fire District is asking voters this month to approve an operating levy to help it restore service to pre-COVID levels.

Lebanon is a local fire district, not connected to a city or county. That means it wasn’t eligible for state or federal emergency funds during the pandemic.

“I could not get any federal subsidies for gowns, specialized equipment for COVID, increases to staffing to meet the demands of all, all our community that was sick,” said Joseph Rodondi, fire chief for the Lebanon Fire District.

He used the district’s general fund to keep it going during the pandemic, but they’re now facing staff shortages and declining response times. A 2019 bond to replace the aging main fire station and some equipment could only be used for those projects, leaving the district in a crunch.

“We will continue to do our best to serve the community, but it behooves us to tell the community that their services aren’t what they used to be," said Rodondi. "And what we’re asking for is just, what level of service would you like from your fire district?”

This year’s levy would give the district six new firefighters, replace older fire engines and ambulances, and help cover insurance costs. It would be funded by a property tax of 75 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value, raising almost $11 million over five years.

Rondondi said the levy would only be a patch.

“I think there’s a multi-year discussion that has to happen with the legislators," he said. "I don’t think it will be solved on the lower level, like district by district.”

Fire districts in Oregon are advocating for Congress to approve a resolution that would allow federal funding to be allocated to special districts in the future. Rodondi said it will take that kind of long-term legislative action to solve his district’s budget woes.

Chrissy Ewald is a freelance reporter for KLCC. She first reported for KLCC as the 2023 Snowden Intern.