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Our View: In Klamath, time to move past dispute

It’s strange how sometimes people who are striving for the same result can end up at loggerheads.

Look at downtown Crescent City, where lately business owners and operators have been embroiled in a debate over whether to dissolve the Business Improvement District. No doubt every party involved wants the city’s core area to thrive, but sometimes that objective has been overshadowed by the debate over BID.

Twenty miles to the south is another example. It’s hard to imagine an enterprise more likely to receive widespread community support than the Klamath Fire Protection District. After all, in a remote area such as this, the district is likely to provide the first response to almost any emergency, from a fire to a heart attack.

Combine that with the fact that the district is entirely volunteer-run, and you’ve got the sort of enterprise that everyone can get behind, right? Sort of like the way this county’s Democrats and Republicans, its environmental protectionists and its Tea Partiers, all support Del Norte Warrior athletics?

Wrong. Even something as altruistic as a volunteer fire department can prove divisive when a tax increase is proposed. In August, a ballot measure to increase funding for the fire district failed in a vote of property owners. It would have increased the assessment by $36 per unit on a parcel, bringing the total annual tax to $60. It would’ve given the department about $26,000 to work with a year instead of about $17,700.

The proposal failed 278-171, but it was an unusual election in that people were able to vote more than once if they owned more than one home on a parcel —  someone with five houses could vote five times, for example.

This led to some confusion before the election, and some finger-pointing afterward. Supporters of the tax increase bemoaned the fact that a couple of big property owners had so many votes. Opponents said the fire district was to blame for proposing too big of a tax increase.

Now the challenge in Klamath is to heal the rift and get the entire community working together again on ways of making sure the fire district is adequately funded. While some sort of tax increase is likely needed, it can’t happen immediately and it can’t be as big as the proposal that already failed.

What else can be done? Well, for one thing, the district would probably benefit from more volunteers. Not necessarily more firefighters or paramedics, but more community members willing to help in other ways: grant-writing, bookkeeping, fund­raising and maintenance on the district’s facilities and equipment.

Shortly after the election, a successful Safety Awareness Day and Ribeye Steak Barbecue fundraiser was held in Klamath. It was an immediate reminder that the community supports the fire district,

regardless of any hurt feelings.

As community members, we must learn from past difficulties while always looking ahead at what can be accomplished if we focus on the common good. You can disagree with your neighbor on a specific topic and still agree on the big-picture objective of improving the neighborhood.

That’s something to keep in mind, in downtown Crescent City and in Klamath.

— Del Norte Triplicate


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