Local government

New fee for Vale fire, ambulance kicks in this month

VALE – Residents and businesses will see a new fee on their utility bills at the end of July designed to help the Vale Fire & Ambulance Department.

The Vale City Council approved the new fees last month as a way to take some pressure off the city’s general fund and to help the fire department replace its aging ladder truck.

The new fee schedule will generate about $86,000 a year, said Vale City Manager Todd Fuller.

In one of the first steps to upgrade the fire department’s equipment, the council approved a lease Tuesday, July 5, for a 2022 Rosenbauer ladder truck. The first payment on the truck isn’t due until July 2023, said Fuller, and the new vehicle will cost the city about $85,000 a year.

That will leave only around $1,000 from the new fee schedule for city officials to use, and Fuller said, at least for the short term, Vale will continue to use some general fund money, along with grant monies, to supplement the fire department budget.

“Next year there might be some opportunity to not pull from the general fund. Then we can shift some of our revenue over to the ambulance,” said Fuller.

Under the new fee program, Vale homeowners will pay $10 a month for this fiscal year, which began July 1. The fee will go to $15 in the 2023-2024 fiscal year and then jump to $20 a month the next year where it will be capped.

The business fee will be based on water usage. Any business property expected to use an average of 500 cubic feet of water a month will pay $35. A heavy user of water like the Malheur County Jail will pay from $40 a month to a maximum of $100.

“Basically, this will be the way we fund our fire department going forward,” said Vale City Manager Todd Fuller.

The utility bill for a Vale resident averages about $110 a month, said Fuller.

The new ladder truck is the centerpiece of the department’s equipment upgrade and will be delivered within the next few months, said Fuller.

The new vehicle will replace the 37-year-old ladder truck used by the fire department. That truck is plagued by mechanical problems and safety issues, said Fuller.

“We are only allowed two people in it because of the open cab,” said Fuller.

Fuller said the ladder truck is crucial to fight fires.

“We might not have a ton of fires but when you have them, a ladder truck makes a big difference on how fast that fire gets put out,” said Fuller.

The council decision to raise fees came in the wake of a survey conducted last spring by the Vale Fire Department that indicated support for the fee hike.

The city received 255 survey responses where 131 revealed they would be willing to pay $35 a month and another 78 confirmed they would pay $25 a month.

“It will help to improve training, improve other equipment such as personal protection equipment. It is a huge boost,” said Fire Chief Jess Tolman.

Fuller said the decision by the council regarding the new fees was the right one.

“They had a lot of deliberation at the council meeting. I think, in the end, they had a lot more pros than cons,” said Fuller.

The fee boost will help the fire department navigate a solid path into the future, said Tolman.

“It will improve protection. Down the road we may be able to bring on more part-time guys and have them down here more consistently,” said Tolman.

Currently, the fire and ambulance department roster include 20 people. The fire department is manned by two full-time people while the ambulance includes one full-time employee, said Tolman. The rest are part-timers.

Tom Vialpando, Vale mayor, said the fee increase was necessary because the city’s general fund could not continue to sustain costs associated with the fire and ambulance department.

“Now with inflation we can’t continue to take from the general fund. In order to bolster our position and to be able to have a fire department, it has to be appropriately funded. It just needed to be done,” said Vialpando.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected].

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