By Lauren Brown
The Harney Basin Rural Fire Protection District is officially no more.
After seven months of meetings, phone surveys and soliciting signatures for the petition, the formation committee filed a request to withdraw the petition for the formation of the district during what was supposed to a hearing before the Harney County Court on Monday, June 2.
Committee Chairman Phil Kessinger started out by saying that the committee recently found out that the City of Hines clarified its position on serving the outer reaches of the fire district and that would make it impossible to go forward with putting the fire district on the November ballot.
Hines Mayor Ruth Schultz and Hines Fire Chief Bob Spence were both at the meeting. “You’ve got to draw the line somewhere,” Spence said. He noted that he felt the fire department simply wouldn’t be able to save any structures that were farther than 7.2 miles out of town. He also said that his primary duty was to the City of Hines, not the out reaches of the county.
“We just felt we couldn’t give the fire district a guarantee,” Schultz said.
Burns Fire Chief Bill Guindon agreed to a certain extent with Hines’ position. “Anything beyond six miles is pretty limited in what we can do in response,” he said. However, he said that as the fire district grew, certain things, such as satellite stations could be phased in.
Kessinger seemed a bit angry that Hines was only stating this position now and said they never formally told him about their decision. He said he happened to hear about it at the post office just last week.
In light of the recent development, he stated that the committee would be forced to withdraw the petition to create the fire district because there would be townships within the fire district boundary that would be impossible to service, and that, Kessinger said, violates Oregon statutes. He noted that the committee could try to redraw the boundary, but then there wouldn’t be enough of a tax base to support the district with the tax rate that had already been established.
“We’ve done everything we possibly could,” Kessinger said. He then read the committee’s official request to withdraw the petition.
The county court moved to accept the committee’s decision to withdraw, and the motion passed unanimously. “I would have liked to have seen this move a step further and seen the people make the decision,” County Judge Steve Grasty said.
“This is unfortunate,” Commissioner Dan Nichols agreed. “It took a tremendous amount of effort. It’s a tough situation. I can wholly understand where the cities are coming from, too.”
The idea to create the rural fire district came about last year in October when the Burns City Council stated that it would not longer respond to fires outside the Burns city limits. The council extended rural fire coverage (as resources and staffing allow) to June 30 only because rural residents made impassioned pleas for more time. After June 30, the City of Burns has stated that it will not respond to fires outside the city limits, unless the council takes further action between now and then. Council members didn’t feel city taxpayers should have to foot the bill for county residents.
Since that decision, Burns City Fire Chief Guindon has said the city will respond to fires within a radius of six miles from the city limits.