Marion County Fire District 1 is expecting to make staffing cuts following a levy failure last month. (Courtesy/Marion County Fire District 1)

Facing a $2.4 million budget shortage, Marion County Fire District No. 1 is planning to cut staffing and employee benefits.

Fire Chief Kyle McMann said the district, which serves rural areas around Salem, is determining how it will cover the deficit created in part because voters in May rejected a new tax levy. The tax measure would have cost 99 cents per $1,000 in assessed value.

He’s presenting suggestions to the district board Thursday, June 18 at 6 p.m. to “stop the bleeding,” which includes cutting three employees from a roster of 44 before the fiscal year starts in July.

“What we’re trying to do right now is start to save money and balance our budget with the resources we’re given,” McMann said.

The meeting will be held on Zoom and those who wish to provide input need to register online will be called on by the board chair during the comment period.

DOCUMENT LINK: AGENDA

The board also is expected to consider eliminating the cost-of-living wage increase and ask employees to start paying for their healthcare.

McMann said the board won’t vote on wage or benefit cuts because those are subject to union bargaining. But he said cuts could impact the district’s ability to retain firefighters.

He said all those living in the district should expect to see service impacts, but the fringes will see the largest increases in response time as the reduction in staff requires engines to travel further.

“Realistically, everybody is going to see an impact to their service level to some degree,” McMann said.

He said over the years the district has cut all of the administrative positions, so the only place cut now is from operations staff.

McMann said the district would spread the three layoffs throughout the organization.

“We’re taxed right now and reducing any units is going to cause increased response times throughout our unit,” he said.

McMann said he wouldn’t have specific numbers until the board voted on where it would make the cuts.

The failure of the levy comes at a time when the district is responding to more calls than ever with less personnel as volunteers dwindle.

There were 130 volunteers when McMann joined the district in 2001, he told Salem Reporter earlier this year. Now there are 60.

Last year, firefighters responded to 8,062 calls, up from 7,604 in 2018. The district often relies on other agencies to help respond to calls, which lengthens response times, McMann said.

SUPPORT SALEM REPORTER'S JOURNALISM - A monthly subscription starts at $5. Go HERE. Or contribute to keep our reporters and photographers on duty. Go HERE. Checks can be sent: Salem Reporter, 2925 River Rd S #280 Salem OR 97302. Your support matters.

Have a tip or story idea? Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250, [email protected] or @daisysaphara.