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November vote set for Tahoe Ridge fire protection district

Public fills courtroom to speak for, against petitioners’ request

This sign along Leitch Creek Road east of Kooskia marks the start of the Ridge Runner Fire District.

Photo by David Rauzi
This sign along Leitch Creek Road east of Kooskia marks the start of the Ridge Runner Fire District.



— The Idaho County Commission had denied a petition to turn the Ridge Runner Fire Department into a taxpayer-funded fire district in 2008, with chairman Skip Brandt – the only one of the three who was on the commission then – citing 10-to-1 opposition during that hearing. But the opposition was perhaps 2-to-1 or 3-to-1 in the courtroom Tuesday, July 31, when the county commissioners advanced a new petition to the general election this November.

According to Idaho County Free Press archives, back in 2008, Brandt had said those who spoke in opposition had stated their commitment to “taking more active roles in volunteering and raising money.”

On Tuesday, volunteer fire chief Blaine Feinman told the commission the department has not even been able to raise enough money under a relatively new subscription program. He also said he and other volunteers have been pouring their personal resources into operations.

Many of those who spoke against the formation of a taxing district said they too have poured personal resources – time and money – into firefighting.

Some, including Timothy Hicks, said they not only have financially supported the volunteer fire department – they have procured and deployed their own equipment for firefighting.

“The people who are going to get fires out are the first responders who live there,” he said. “No different than our local police department. Who is best to protect your own home? The people who live there.”

But, Hicks said, he hasn’t been going to the fire department meetings.

“I’m very much in favor of going and helping, but I have lagged,” he said. “I have not showed up at the meetings. Shame on me.”

Others said they would not be willing to support a fire department that provides services they said have been inadequate. Others said they felt insulted by a letter the fire department sent seeking subscriptions. Others said the fire department’s commitment to using modern equipment and complying with modern regulations has made the service far more expensive than doing things the old way.

Only one person who testified said she wanted to hear the rest of the hearing before deciding whether or not she would support the district: Georgia Rencher, who said the fire department responded well when her home caught fire.

“People who are willing to help with all kinds of grass fires are not really qualified to go into a home where there’s dense smoke and other problems involved,” she said. “There’s too much risk to them without being trained and having the right equipment including oxygen masks and so forth. … I respect the wish to join in as a group and fight grass fires and this sort of thing, but I feel we need a fire department that can address structure fire.”

While introducing the petition to the commissioners and those present for the hearing, Ridge Runner Fire Department board member Paul Anderberg said good fire protection factors into saving money on homeowners insurance, referencing costs of $800 for areas with an “eight rated” fire district and $1,500 or more for areas without. Others who testified said their insurance providers don’t reference fire department ratings.

According to Anderberg’s letter, the district would tax property at a rate of $60 per $100,000 assessed value.

The commission took more than two hours of testimony and finally voted on a motion by Brandt, seconded by Mark Frei, to put the question to district residents during the general election on Nov. 6.

Along with the public comments the commissioners heard Tuesday, the public records file the county released to the Free Press on Aug. 1 contains 41 pages, including 22 pages totaling 83 signatures in opposition to the taxing district. The formal petition, which the county certified, includes verified signatures of 26 petitioners who own property within the proposed district.

Among the public records are the fire department’s financial information and report on its expenses and income, the July 31 letter from which Paul Anderberg read during the hearing, and proposed – unapproved – ballot language. These public records are available in full online at idahocountyfreepress.com.



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