CANYON CITY A Circuit Court judge has ordered the Grant County Court to approve the formation of the Monument Rural Fire District.
In his Feb. 13 decision, Circuit Judge William D. Cramer Jr. said no election is necessary for forming the district. He found that 100 percent of the landowners had signed the petition to create the district, and also that the properties would benefit from the formation.
Cramers ruling was sent to Grant County counsel Ronald S. Yockim, a Roseburg attorney, and Lisa Klemp, a Redmond attorney representing Roy Peterson, the chief proponent for the district.
Peterson has been seeking to form a rural fire district for more than 10 years. He and supporters last year circulated petitions among landowners and residents in the unincorporated area near Monument.
The County Court decided the measure would need to go to an election, and scheduled a public hearing for Oct. 12. But on Oct. 10, the Court canceled the hearing, contending that the legal descriptions used for the petition were too flawed to use in preparing ballots.
The Court said the district advocates would need to start over on the petition. District proponents said the delay meant they wouldnt be able to meet the deadline for submitting a new or revised measure to the primary election ballots and they questioned the need for an election.
Peterson sued the county, asking the state court to order the County Court to approve the petition and the district formation.
Attorneys argued the case Nov. 16 in the Circuit Court. After deliberating, Cramer ruled that the County Court failed to hold a hearing in a timely manner, and that 100 percent of the owners of the land included in the proposed district had signed the petition.
The county spent significant time in its written submissions arguing this was not so, but at the hearing it was established that in fact all owners had signed the petition in support, Cramer wrote. If there was a dispute, it was whether the county would choose to expand the district as proposed in the petition.
Cramer agreed with Yockim that the district description was not complete, but said that in good faith, there is no confusion as to what lands are included.
If the county had acted in a timely manner, they could have directed petitioner to submit a full and complete metes and bounds description. No doubt the Department of Revenue will require him to do so under ORS 308.225, Cramer said.
He said the County Court could still identify the boundaries to determine if the properties would benefit, a key to forming a rural fire district.
Peterson and Jerry Cowger, another district organizer, were pleased with Cramers ruling, calling it a clear win. They were baffled, however, by what they see as continued opposition from the county.
In a Feb. 21 email to Petersons attorney, Klemp, Yockim said she was misrepresented the 100 percent showing from landowners in court. He cited figures from Assessor Lane Burton indicating that only 44 of 90 landowners in the district signed the petition, 14 signed letters of support and 32 signed nothing.
Yockim said he would ask the Court whether they want to seek clarification or reconsideration of the issue.
He suggested, however, that since the ruling didnt address establishing a new tax levy, that both parties step back ask the judge to modify his order, either to:
Show that enough signatures were collected to proceed with an election on a tax levy for the district, in time for the November vote.
Direct the county to hold the hearing and fix a date for the final hearing, so people who want in or out could request a change or could request an election on forming the district. This course could result in two elections, one for formation and another for a tax levy.
Cowger and Peterson both said the assessors calculations were based on an outdated map. The correct map, they said, includes only the properties of owners who signed the petition or the letters of support.
The county has two copies of the right map. I dont know why he didnt use that, Peterson said.
Peterson said the judge agreed with our 100 percent signature rate.
He said the proposed district doesnt include anyone who hasnt opted in. He noted that at a county hearing last fall in Monument, the only criticism came from people who live outside the district boundaries and wouldnt be affected.
Peterson and Cowger said it makes no sense to ask the judge to modify a ruling thats in their favor.
We have a ruling. Weve won at this point, Cowger said. Why would we want to back up and say we want to do things differently now?
It the county feels that strongly about it, Peterson said, they need to appeal it but theyll need to show cause to appeal, he said.