MORE INFO: From the Feb. 29, 2012 print edition of the Blue Mountain Eagle:

CANYON CITY – A Circuit Court judge has ordered the Grant County Court to approve the formation of the Monument Rural Fire District – but it’s far from a done deal.

The county counsel, Ronald S. Yockim, filed an objection to the ruling last Friday, asking Circuit Judge William D. Cramer Jr. to reconsider his Feb. 13 decision.

The objection centers on a dispute over whether the advocates for a rural fire district obtained signatures of 100 percent of the landowners whose property would be included in the boundaries.

The legal wrangling is the latest stage in a 10-year effort by Roy Peterson and supporters to form a fire district in some unincorporated land outside Monument, in northern Grant County.

Peterson sued the county after the Grant County Court last fall canceled a public hearing on the proposal. The Court contended that the legal descriptions used for the petition were too flawed to use in preparing ballots for an election on forming the district.

The Court said the district advocates would need to start over on their petition. District proponents said the delay meant they wouldn’t 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. They contend that they obtained signatures of all the people who own land in the district territory, so no vote should be needed.

Cramer, in his decision, also said no election is necessary to form the district. The ruling noted the 100 percent signature rate, as presented by Lisa Klemp, a Redmond attorney representing Peterson and the district advocates.

“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 also 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 Cramer’s ruling, calling it a clear win. They were baffled, however, by the county’s continued opposition.

Yockim on Feb. 21 asked Klemp to consider seeking a modification of Cramer’s order, essentially acknowledging that the 100 percent rate she presented was in error.

Yockim 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.

He suggested that since the ruling didn’t 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.

In his filing last Friday, Yockim asked Circuit Court to correct its finding of 100 percent, and find instead that “the County Assessor certified that the petition was signed by the requisite number of qualified landowners.”

That change would pave the way for the county to hold a final hearing or, if requested, schedule an election.

Cowger and Peterson both contend the assessor’s 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.

He said the proposed district doesn’t include anyone who hasn’t opted in. He noted that at a meeting last fall in Monument, the only criticism came from people who live outside the district boundaries and wouldn’t be affected.

“We have a ruling. We’ve won at this point,” Cowger said. “But the County Court seems determined to fight this thing.”

 

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