JOHN DAY – City officials are considering a $1 million bond measure after hearing a report at the Jan. 22 council meeting regarding replacement of the aging John Day Fire Station.
Stan Foster of Bend-based PARC Resources, the consultant hired last July to explore options for funding a new fire station, presented his findings to the council – including a recommendation that the city seek approval of the bond measure in next November’s election.
Although some had hoped for grant funding to build a fire hall, Foster said state and federal sources – even those focused on needs of police and firefighter resources – are not funding fire station construction or renovation projects.
Some private foundations may be interested in funding the project, he said, but only after a local commitment is shown.
“Based on our experience and years of doing this, I think we have to make a decision now to go forward with a bond,” he said.
A bond would cover more than half the cost of the new facility, with other money coming from local cash, local in-kind and grant sources.
The new fire hall is estimated to cost $1,766,720. Officials estimate they have about 21.25 percent of that covered through in-kind work, the land acquisition, and the potential future sale of the current fire station.
City officials made no decision on the proposal last week. The council will wait for a recommendation from its fire station citizen advisory committee before making a decision. The committee will meet at 10 a.m. Monday, Feb. 4, and the city council is expected to vote on the recommendation at its Feb. 12 meeting, which starts at 7 p.m.
The committee includes: Fire Chief Ron Smith, Assistant Fire Chief Don Gabbard and Rural Fire Board representatives Rob Batten, Dean Elliott and Jerry Daake. Other members include Jim Spell, Chris Cronin, Donn Willey, Tom Sutton, Anna Bass, and Laura Prado of PARC Resources.
Members of the Rural Fire Board had hoped grants and donations would come before putting a bond proposal to John Day taxpayers.
In a Jan. 15 letter to city manager Peggy Gray, Batten expressed concerns on behalf of the Rural Fire Board directors regarding PARC’s progress on keeping on schedule with the contract and the costs, and about the timing of a bond measure.
“The basis for entering into this contract was to raise funds for the new fire station through grants and donations prior to putting a bond proposal to taxpayers,” the letter said.
Batten noted that in a meeting with PARC on Dec. 13, representatives of the company informed the committee that grants would need to occur after a bond issue was on the ballot.
“This runs counter to our original basis for entering into this contract,” Batten wrote. “To date, approximately $12,000 has been expended on the contract, and only now we are being told the entire basis for entering into this contract is not feasible.”
He ended by calling for “frank discussions” about the contract’s future after the Jan. 22 city council meeting are needed.
At the meeting, Foster conceded that the company was six weeks behind, as he’d been out of the country, in Africa.
He said one reason for the need to seek a bond first is that private funders “need to have local ‘skin in the game.’”
“It’s a catch-22,” he said. “They want you to ante in before they ante in.”
Because private funders view fire stations as a government projects, they generally expect a significant local contribution either in place or pending, he said.
Foster expects the project could gain about $400,000 to $500,000 in grants from foundations.
He said the city could raise about $75,000 by selling the current fire station.
Elliott disagreed, saying “It’s not worth that.”
Foster said a recent city survey, which drew 52 responses from residents, shows that taxpayers want a fire hall. He said he believes there’s general support for a bond measure.
Jim Spell said he’s unsure whether the survey gives a true representation of how the community feels.
Mayor Ron Lundbom compared the project to Enviro Board – how the city worked to make conditions right for the land sale.
“We had to just say ‘We’re doing it,’” he said. “We’ve been talking about a new fire hall for 20 years.”
A sticking point might be the state’s double majority rule. A bond measure submitted in November would require 50 percent plus one vote in favor, with 50 percent of registered John Day voters casting ballots.
As proposed, a 20-year bond for the fire station would cost taxpayers about 27 cents per $1,000 of property value – $27 a year for a home valued at $100,000.
Observers noted that the 20-year jail bond was retired last year, while the hospital bond retires in 2021.
“We’ve done this enough times that we’re confident this is the right approach,” Foster said. “It may not be what you want to hear, but I think it’s a process that will be successful.”
“I think we’re on the right track,” Smith said after the meeting. “I think last night was a good meeting – people got things off their chest.”Read more on bluemountaineagle.com.