- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 22, 2015

ALFALFA, Ore. (AP) - The new fire department in Alfalfa has fire the trucks already. What it doesn’t have is a fire chief, firefighters or a fire station.

That has caused some grumbling and protests among landowners in the ranch country east of Bend, where voters approved a fire district in November 2013 and a tax to finance it, The Bulletin newspaper (https://bit.ly/1GjsXOM) reports.

Alfalfa is an unincorporated community, named for the forage crop grown thereabouts.

Besides its safety benefits, the fire department is seen as a way of restoring a sense of community to a rural place where the school closed nearly four decades ago and there’s no longer a deputy sheriff assigned to patrol.

The vote to create a fire department had a majority topping 70 percent: 251-106.

The district started collecting taxes in November, now totaling about $100,000. The tax applies to 375 landowners and amounts to $1.75 per $1,000 of assessed property value.

The district is 64 square miles, twice the area of the city of Bend. A significant portion is federal government land.

So far, the department has received three trucks, donated by other fire departments. They sit in storage in Bend.

The president of the board, Bob Kathman, said there wasn’t much more the board could do until it had more tax revenue. He said the board hopes to hire a part-time chief soon and look for land for a station. It will be a year before the department is up and running, he said.

Rancher Andy Andrews and others were at a budget meeting earlier this year and have been critical of the pace, purpose and financing of the department.

“It’s gotten way out of hand,” he said. “They said we would have something going by now.”

Andrews said he thought the district would fight fires in homes right away and that he would be taxed only on the value of his home. Instead, he said, the district’s initial focus will be brush fires, and he said the tax assessment includes his pastures.

The fire district board has heard the gripes and is listening to people with questions and concerns, said David Warren, a board member.

He said he is not surprised to hear criticism. “It’s just part of anything new,” Warren said.

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Information from: The Bulletin, https://www.bendbulletin.com

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