This Week in the Mercury


Thursday, July 15, 2010

Under Proposed Fire Bond, SUVs Would be the New Firetrucks

Posted by Sarah Mirk on Thu, Jul 15, 2010 at 3:48 PM

Our new fire trucks, if Saltzman has his way.
  • Our new fire trucks, if Saltzman has his way.
City council is debating a $72.4 million fire bond this afternoon, likely sending on to voters the idea of raising property taxes to pay for new fire equipment, fire station and emergency response center. The increase for the average Portland home would be $23.88 annually ("Roughly the cost of one latte per month," quips Commissioner Randy Leonard's chief of staff Ty Kovatch).

Though the bond is coming from Commissioner Randy Leonard, who's the head of the Fire Bureau, Commissioner Dan Saltzman pitched a couple of interesting amendments yesterday that are worth digging into.

The first of the four amendments relates to the city audit released last week that revealed Portland Fire and Rescue is slow on its response times—due in a large part to the fact that fires only account for three percent of the calls to the fire department. The vast majority of the times a fire truck shows up somewhere, it's for a medical emergency like a car crash or a heart attack. Saltzman's pitching the plan of using some of the bond money to purchase four SUVs that would ferry firefighters to medical emergencies, reducing the strain on fire trucks. The city of Tualatin recently replaced its fire truck responses with the macho Toyota FJ Cruisers.

Another amendment is an obvious dig at Mayor Adams' so-called "sewer money for bikes" debacle: Any cost savings from lower-than-expected construction costs would be passed along to taxpayers.

I thought Leonard's office might be pissed that Saltzman is scooping him on these ideas, but Chief of Staff Kovatch shrugged off that claim. "Our stamp's on the whole thing, if Dan wants to have his little stamp on improving it with the amendments, that's fine," says Kovatch, who says he thinks the amendments strengthen the bond altogether.

So what are the chances that Portland voters will agree to give themselves more taxes this November?
"I think that as a general matter, people recognize safety as a bedrock for a livable community, so they see it differently than parks or the zoo," says Kovatch.

I'll update more about the bond after council is finished discussing it this afternoon.

Update 5PM: The bond passed council. But not without some finger-wagging from Amanda Fritz. No one on the council raised serious criticism of the bond measure except for Commissioner Fritz, who often finds herself the lone vote against proposals.

Fritz's argument against the bond is that reliable fire response is a basic service the city should provide from its general fund, not ask voters to pay extra for. I think she actually has a good point. While the general fund wasn't stretched to cover things like fire station radios crapping out in SW Portland thanks to the hills, the council did manage to find room for $650,000 to keep the mounted patrol... though that took a voluntary $100,000 donation from individuals that council accepted yesterday.

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