Despite the slim passage of a fire district levy increase, a number of Waldport area residents haven’t taken kindly to their local fire department selling off their ambulances and letting a private ambulance company take over the medical side of things.
So they’ve launched a recall petition that’s being circulated around the area – already gathering 150 signatures out of 230 needed to trigger a recall election against Central Coast Fire District Board Chairman Ray Woodruff. Citizen John O’Brien claims Woodruff didn’t check first with fire district taxpayers when he orchestrated the sale of the district’s ambulances to Pacific West Ambulance Service, a private company. O’Brien says the petition drive has tapped into a considerable amount of community anger, many residents feeling left out of having a say about it.
But Woodruff points to many discussions during fire board meetings and one-on-ones around the community about the worsening financial condition of the fire district. Woodward has repeatedly pointed out that the district’s low tax rate, set years ago, coupled with rising costs for equipment, supplies and compulsory training for emergency medical technicians, paramedics and volunteer firefighters, has drained the district’s financial reserves. That’s what triggered the recent lay-off of several full time employees. Right now, they’re down to one – the fire chief, which shows the absolutely critical role of volunteers. Seal Rock and Yachats Fire-Rescue have been generous in providing back-up help when needed. Actually all three departments routinely provide such help to each other as a matter of course and will continue to do so per a quite ancient “Firefighter’s Creed.”
Newly appointed interim Fire Chief Marcus Reed has drafted a basic budget outline in preparation for the next fire board meeting June 16th. Chief Reed agrees with Woodruff and the rest of the board that there are limits set by simple arithmetic based on the costs of running the fire district versus the revenues coming in. Chief Read says the transition to Pac-West Ambulance has been smooth and effective. He says he hopes to have the fire district budget presented in a way that can be understood by district citizens so that the district can move forward together with the residents it serves.
Last month’s ballot issue to raise the fire district tax rate by $1.27 per thousand dollars of assessed valuation was approved by district voters – the final vote tally was 702 votes yes for the tax increase, 683 votes no – a 19 vote margin. The tax increase is approved. The extra funds are expected to shore up the remaining services of the fire district including higher training requirements, higher costs for supplies, replacing equipment and other necessary capital costs. Again, Chief Reed has the details.
Should the citizens move ahead with their recall petition drive against board Chairman Ray Woodruff, the cost of the special election would come out of the fire district’s already beleaguered budget.