Jackson County Fire District 5 would take over coverage area
By Tony Boom for the Rogue Valley Times
A volunteer fire district with a 41-year history may come to an end.
Colestin Rural Fire District in southern Jackson County will hold a dissolution vote Nov. 7, with Jackson County Fire District 5 positioned to take over the area.
“It was a decision that was not reached quickly and happily, but it is absolutely necessary,” said Peggy Moore, chair of the Colestin board. “We just don’t have the people to respond to emergencies in the way we did in the past. We cannot safely meet the necessary requirements to continue as a district ourselves.”
An aging population has called into question the ability of volunteers, who average over 60 years old, to provide service after this year, said Moore. The area has also become a bedroom community for Ashland, reducing the number of individuals able to respond to fires during daytime, she said.
If approved, the measure would take effect Jan. 1. JCFD5 would take over service on an interim basis while it works to annex the area into its boundaries.
Colestin RFD covers a 17-square-mile area running to the California border. The Mt. Ashland Ski Road separates part of the district from JCFD5 on its northern boundary, but the ski area is located outside the Colestin district. There are about 200 people in the Colestin area, and turnout for special elections is usually about 23%, said Moore.
District officials have held three meetings to explain to the public why they are seeking dissolution. People seem to understand the reasoning behind seeking the vote, said Moore. The last meeting was a community picnic held at the Hilt School on Sept. 10.
In an explanatory statement provided for the voters’ pamphlet, CRFD officials wrote that a no vote would mean the district will effectively cease to operate Dec. 31. As a consequence, the area would be without fire and emergency life safety services, and decisions would be left up to Jackson County.
Cost to CRFD for dissolution is estimated at $8,000. The district has retained a lawyer for guidance in the process, said Moore. Other dissolution costs will be fees for the election paid to Jackson County.
A state of Oregon grant this summer to the Colestin district provided for locating firefighters and equipment there during high-risk fire periods. FD5 supplied those crews and engines.
In 2021, the two districts established a formal intergovernmental agreement on helping each other after years of working together to respond to emergencies, said District 5 Chief Charles Hanley.
If voters approve the dissolution, District 5 would need to take several steps before a transition is complete. Among them would be a vote of approval by district residents or a petition by a sufficient number of land owners to annex into FD5. Once annexed, the land would be subject to the current FD5 tax rate of $3.19 per $1,000 of valuation.
The ballot measure calls for all district assets and debts to be transferred to FD5. The Colestin district has no debt. In a June 6 filing, CRFD listed $14,673 in a general account and $66,498 in a local government interest pool account. Land the district owns at 1719 Colestin Road was acquired for $98,142 through a donor grant and expenditure of district reserves.
FD5 would also gain possession of water tanks located throughout the district, which lacks a water system, to provide supplies during fires. There are four 10,000-gallon tanks and four 5,000-gallon tanks.
The district has a 1991 International Type 3 engine valued at $25,000 with another $10,965 of equipment and hoses. A 1987 GMC Type 6 engine, commonly known as a brush rig, is valued at $5,000 and has $3,800 in hoses and equipment.
FD5 would evaluate the engines and equipment to see where they might be utilized in the district fleet, said Hanley.
The district’s engines have been housed in a building on land loaned for that use. The building will stay with that land. District 5 would look into construction of a building to house equipment and perhaps locate living quarter on the district-owned parcel for crews if annexation happens, said Hanley.
“They don’t generate enough revenue for permanent staffing, so we will look at it on a seasonal basis for fire season and perhaps winter sometimes,” said Hanley. That might include trailers to house personnel and cover structures for vehicles initially. Utilities are already in place at the site.
Communication issues will also need to be explored, said Hanley. Due to its location, the Colestin department is often dispatched out of California, as signals from Emergency Communications of Southern Oregon in the Rogue Valley cannot go through.
The district’s only fire chief, Steve Avgeris, who helped found it, will retire, said Moore.
“At the time we had no tax base,” said Moore, recalling when the district was started. She’s been on the board for 38 years, much of that time as chair. “We relied on donations from people in the community for a little fire station.”
Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at firstname.lastname@example.org.