Levy renewal seeks to meet fire costs

Cannon Beach Fire Chief Matt Benedict in his office at the main station.

Cannon Beach Rural Fire District is asking voters to renew a five-year fire chief levy.

The levy pays for the chief’s salary, vehicles, administrative costs and supplies. It will go up to $0.19 per thousand of assessed property up from an average $0.14 voted in five years ago. With the new rate, a homeowner would pay $19 a year on a $100,000 house. Earlier in the year, the board indicated an intention to keep the levy rate the same out of fear that voters would have “tax fatigue” from multiple levies and bonds coming on the ballot in November, but decided an increase was needed to cover growing costs.

Between 2019 to 2024, the levy is estimated to bring the district about $1.2 million over five years. The last levy brought in approximately $700,000 over five years.

With the current rate, the district has had to dip into reserves to cover growing costs associated with the position, Fire Chief Matt Benedict said. Rising health insurance costs and PERS rates are the biggest increases.

If rates aren’t raised, there will not be enough in the fund to cover the fire chief’s position for another year, if the voters chose not to renew the levy, he said.

Raising the levy 4 cents allows the district to build up a reserve to prepare for future cost increases, including slowly raising the salary, Benedict said.

Benedict, who is paid $80,000 a year, would make $90,000 in two years.

Benedict said $90,000 is on par with other chiefs around the county, and that if the district wants to encourage well-qualified people to fill the position in the future, the district must start gradually increasing the salary to be competitive. It will also help account for rising PERS and health care costs in the future.

“It’s getting us up to where Cannon Beach needs to be to get someone experienced in the future,” Benedict said.

Four board members supported the pay increase, saying it was necessary given the difficulty of the job and Benedict’s performance.

Fire board member Sharon Clyde was the one dissenting vote, saying it wasn’t the most prudent way to spend resources in a time when the district is short on cash.

“It’s not about how well he’s doing. It’s about fiduciary responsibility,” Clyde said.

Voters will see the levy on the Special Election ballot Sept. 19.

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