Talent Ballot Measure 15-216 Positions Firefighters Against Politicians

Jackson County Fire District 5 (JCFD5) and the City of Talent have taken starkly opposite sides of a big measure, in the small town.

On May 16th, Talent voters will decide the outcome of Ballot Measure 15-216 (M15-216), the potential direction of millions of dollars, and the future development of the urban core of the city.

Measure 15-216 is described as follows for Talent voters: Should Talent implement the Almeda Fire Recovery and Revitalization Plan using urban renewal tax increment financing?

Those in favor of the measure say The Almeda Fire Recovery and Revitalization Plan outlines goals designed to help the Talent community recover from the life-changing September 2020 Almeda Fire. 

One of these goals include recovering affordable housing that was lost in the fire. The plan identifies capital projects that help increase buildable land and incentive programs to encourage affordable housing developments. 

Another main goal is to revitalize commercial areas in the city. The plan identifies incentive programs that would provide grants and low-cost loans to encourage commercial development and support businesses. 

If passed, the measure would also upgrade public infrastructure. The plan identifies public infrastructure projects that are needed to support the higher density redeveloped areas, such as sidewalks, upgraded fire lines, and increased stormwater capacity. Another plan component identifies projects to recover lost tree canopy, install early warning systems, and establish walking paths to better maintain natural areas. 

All of the plans in discussion require money, and lots of it. Urban renewal tax increment financing is proposed to be the primary funding source for implementing the projects in the Almeda Fire Recovery and Revitalization Plan. 

The plan states that property owners in the urban renewal area would not pay additional property taxes. Instead, the impact falls on the government districts that receive property taxes from within the urban renewal area. They would continue to receive their current levels of property tax revenues from within the designated area but increases in property tax revenues from within that area would be placed in a separate account used for financing the sixteen urban renewal projects. Meaning, as property taxes increase over time, due to continued growth and the subsequent rise in property values over the next years, the affected organizations will not see any of that money. Instead the funds would go towards the Almeda Fire Recovery and Revitalization Plan and the urban renewal districts plans.

These are the main government districts whose current property tax revenues from within the urban renewal area would be frozen for a period of approximately 20 years: City of Talent ($140,000 per year), Jackson County Fire District 5 ($139,000 per year), Jackson County ($87,000 per year), Jackson County Library District ($23,000 per year), and Rogue Valley Transportation District ($7,700 per year). The dollar figures shown in the foregoing parentheses indicate the estimated amounts of increased property taxes revenue (in 2023 dollars) from within the urban renewal area that would flow annually into the urban renewal fund instead of going to those government districts, on average.

Those opposed to the measure say that the public will see a reduction of critical fire protection, among another negative effects, if it’s passed. A website created to combat the measure issued the following statement: Measure 15-216, the City of Talent urban renewal district scheme, will shift $19 million away from critical public services like fire and police protection, schools, libraries, and other important basic services over the next 20 years. Jackson County Fire District 5 would see one of the biggest budget hits—losing $2.78 million in funding. We all want Talent to recover and thrive – but rebuilding will take more than replacing homes and buildings. We need to build back stronger and better prepared to prevent and manage future wildfires. Cutting funding from Talent’s fire department will weaken crews and deplete resources desperately needed to protect people and property during fire season. 

Jackson County Fire District 5 has warned about potential losses if the measure passes. They are directly asking the public to vote against it. They issued the following information as an example of their potential losses under the measure if passed. Currently, a crew cab engine costs about $175,000. Talent Urban Renewal wants to take approximately three million dollars from Fire District 5s budget. “2 cents for every dollar” adds up to the price of 17 type 6 wildland engines.

Medford Alert was founded on the mission and commitment to provide Agenda-Free news coverage in our work. We have reached out to representatives on both sides of this issue for direct information that is meant to help voters decide what is the right choice for themselves and the city they live and work in.

We conducted a phone interview with Jackson County Fire District 5 IAFF Local 2596 President Brady Graham regarding Measure 15-216 and its impacts on Fire District 5.

Medford Alert (MA): Jackson County Fire District firefighters recently canvased areas of Talent, going door to door to talk with community members about this measure, what were the reactions from some of those you talked to?

Brady Graham (BG): I was actually surprised by the overwhelming support from the people we talked to. There were very few negative interactions, and we knocked on about 2000 doors last week.

MA: If the measure was to pass, what (if any) immediate and longterm effects will residents notice from JCFD5?

BG: It would be business as usual for the immediate future. However, equipment maintenance and repair would be the biggest impact in the first 6 months to a year. After Almeda, D5 had a major funding loss of $1.6m and came close to laying off staff. The Chief applied for grants and was able to double staffing to proper levels due to those [grants] funds. Those funds will run out in 2-3 years, but we are hoping to retain them. Any financial impact would hamstring staffing eventually.

MA: Given the, sometimes contentious, tone of this measure, that has essentially put JCFD5 and Talent officials of opposing sides of the issue, do you feel that the professional relationships between all parties can be mended after the election?

BG: I feel that there was a wedge placed between the two sides and the citizens have to choose a side, which puts us as firefighters in a awkward situation. At the end of the day, we would go to great lengths to make sure the community and the city of Talent do not feel any financial effects [if passed].

MA: How much do you estimate this campaign has cost your side? And where did the funds come from to fight this?

BA: This campaign has been more expensive then I would have ever imagined. I don’t have an exact total but it is around $20,000. Local firefighters raised about half [$10,000] from our union, and the Oregon State Fire Fighters Council matched our amount. We have also received a small amount of donations from mostly local supporters.

MA: There was a claim made from the opposition that a Salem/Portland PAC was spearheading your campaign and paying for it, can you address that?

BA: We hired a political consultant to help with the legal stuff of running a campaign. I [we] are firefighters and I had no idea all the legal details that needed to be handled to stay in compliance. There is only one PAC and it’s our own here. I believe it’s called, Save Our Public Services PAC.

MA: Is there anything you want the voters of Talent to know before the election?

BA: No matter the outcome, if the bell rings, we always go.

Medford Alert also contacted City of Talent Mayor Darby Ayers-Flood, and had the opportunity to ask her a few questions regarding Measure 15-216 and the Cities’ position on it.

Medford Alert (MA): As we get closer to Election Day, how confident is the City of Talent / Mayors office in the passing of Measure 15-216?

Mayor Darby Ayers-Flood (DAF): The city has done an outstanding job of providing factual information about this tool that can fund the Talent Fire Recovery and Revitalization Plan without raising taxes. There are other options, the county has suggested we pull bonds and raise taxes. We will objectively pursue whichever financing our community ask us to this May.

MA: What direct response does the city/mayors office have to opponents of 15-216 concerned that the longterm financial losses of JCFD5 (among other government entities) will cause safety concerns and liability in Talent? 

DAF: $3M over 20 years out of a $159M budget is just two cents on the dollar. There is a $20k campaign by a PAC out of a Portland and Salem who is saying this will impact safety, but when Brady Graham provided his testimony at Council, he made it very clear that this measure will not impact responsiveness for Talent residents when he said on the record “to be clear, if residents call, we will respond”.

MA: If the measure passes, what is the first project that proponents will launch?

DAF: The project planning and policy making process. We will begin that process immediately if passed.

MA: If the measure fails, will the city attempt to try again for TURA funding?  

DAF: We are more likely to consider putting a general obligation bond forward. We are committed to pursuing the other methods of funding for the long term recovery. Emergency grants are waning and most don’t pay for longer range needs. But they’re always competitive grants, bonds, fees and some of the items we would leave up to time. 

MA: Given the vocal and public opposition (especially from JCFD5 personnel), whether 15-216 passes or fails, do you feel that the professional relationships between the city and public opponents (ie firefighters/teachers) will/can be mended?

DAF: The loudest voice in opposition has been from professional campaign firms out of Portland using a $20k PAC for all of the messaging without any context on how their terrifying tactics might trigger a vulnerable community. We are not engaging with the PAC’s bully tactics, we are simply providing the facts. This does not adversely impact our local relationships with anyone’s point of view.

MA: Anything else you would like to add that you feel residents of Talent should know prior to voting on May 16th?

DAF: Choosing to reallocate our own tax funds to pay for our recovery before raising taxes is our absolute right and responsibility as tax payers. Our highest hope is that our voters appreciate that Council has provided as the the first option, a funding tool that does not raise taxes.

Medford Alert investigated the claims that an outside PAC was behind the opposition of the measure. According to the Oregon Secretary of State Elections Office, there is one PAC associated with the opposition of 15-216. The PAC is named Secure Our Public Services PAC and has a Portland-based political consulting firm listed as the Treasurer. The firm is called C&E Systems and they “Manage campaign compliance and reporting” for clients as an independent business. The other Salem-based connection that is listed on the PAC is that of Oregon State Fire Fighter Council President, Karl Koenig. We also confirmed that the PAC had a total of $20,800 in cash at the beginning of the opposition campaign. There were no loans taken out as all the funds were listed under “cash contributions.” According to Oregon records, the Oregon State Fire Fighters Council contributed $11,500 to the campaign. While the Jackson County Fire District 5 IAFF Local 2596 union contributed $9,000. The remaining amount was mostly small contributions from several public supporters.

Talent voters will have the opportunity to voice their opinions during the May 16th special election. Are you in favor or opposed to Measure 15-216? Continue the conversation on our Twitter and Facebook platforms.

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