Chief staggered by loss of future tax revenues

Shaking on the proposed merger of Depoe Bay Fire District and North Lincoln Fire and Rescue, Chief Bill Johnson of DBFD (left) and Chief Rob Dahlman of NLFR revealed Wednesday they are already sharing jobs prior to a north county vote on the issue. (Photo by Rick Beasley)

LINCOLN CITY — Fire Chief Rob Dahlman was still reeling from a meeting with city officials when he told fire board members Wednesday that the North Lincoln Fire & Rescue District (NLFR) stands to lose as much as $5.5 million in future taxes.

The figure represents NLFR’s share of property taxes that would be diverted to Lincoln City over the next 25 years with the creation of a new urban renewal project in Roads End. Details of the proposal were unveiled this week in a series of public and private meetings between city officials, representatives of affected tax districts and the public.

“Bottom line, they’re taking away our tax money,” Dahlman said at the Jan. 9 meeting, figuring property taxes in the north-end project area comprise 12 percent of the district’s annual budget. “I just sat at the session (with city officials) and listened. Nothing in the urban renewal district ever comes back to NLFR, but they’re in the fire district, and we have to provide services.”

According to figures released by Lincoln City’s urban renewal office, the 500-acre area would yield about $64 million in tax revenues over 25 years. Urban renewal would redirect increases in rates from a dozen taxing districts to the Lincoln City Urban Renewal Agency. Impacted agencies include the county, the fire department, North Lincoln Health, Devils Lake Water Improvement, schools and the community college.

Board member Danny Curler said there was little the fire district could do, however, acknowledging the decision to establish urban renewal areas rests with the Lincoln City City Council.

“Something’s got to give,” Dahlman countered, saying a city official’s offer to buy a fire engine or build an unneeded fire station falls short of making up for the lost revenue. “We still have to serve people in other parts of the city. What will they say when we have to reduce staff or say we need another operating levy?”

Board members directed Dahlman to learn more about the proposal and discuss the matter with a statewide group that represents small taxing districts such as NLFR.

“(Former) Chief Baker didn’t like urban renewal, and neither do I,” concluded Dahlman, named last year as fire chief. “At the end of the day, I don’t want to be their enemy. My opinion is that it’s a big project, and they’re very ambitious.”

In other business, the fire board discussed the chief’s contract, agreeing to a three-month severance agreement and foregoing a cost-of-living increase to raise Dahlman’s salary from $105,000 to $114,000 annually. The board, led by President Alan Lee, also named Rene Selvidge to the budget committee.

Present at Wednesday’s meeting was Chief Bill Johnson of the Depoe Bay Fire District, which is positioning itself for a merger with NLFR.

“It will be beneficial for both districts,” Johnson said afterward. “It will provide more staffed engines to respond to calls right away rather than waiting for mutual aid. We’ll be dispatched together and run together, and by creating a larger tax base we might be able to show enough money to increase our career staffs.”

While the merger has yet to be approved by voters in a special election expected next year, Chief Dahlman added the two agencies have already fused important functions as the result of an agreement signed in December including joint management of the districts, hiring new firefighters and training — sharing the mock tower and other state-of-the-art training facilities at NLFR’s St. Clair fire station.

North Lincoln has 19 full-time employees, including 12 “line” firefighters and 30 volunteers. Depoe Bay has 11 employees, including nine firefighters and 10 volunteers.

“When I’m out of town, Chief Johnson is in charge, and the same goes if he’s gone,” said Dahlman.

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