CCFR signs agreement with Port of Ridgefield following taxing boundary concerns


The Clark-Cowlitz Fire Rescue (CCFR) and Port of Ridgefield commissioners will annually meet to discuss the financial impacts of a newly established taxing boundary following concerns about how it will impact the fire department’s revenue in years to come.

The two agencies entered an agreement that lays the groundwork for future negotiations following the Port’s establishment of a new taxing boundary for boundaries in Ridgefield’s downtown, two Interstate 5 overpasses and near the waterfront. Each year, the port and fire department’s commissioners will meet to discuss the tax boundary’s effects on CCFR’s annual revenue and possible mitigation measures.

On April 10, the Port of Ridgefield commissioners unanimously established tax increment financing (TIF), which allows the Port of Ridgefield to collect property tax increases in those boundaries, as well as all property taxes on new development. At the same time, other taxing districts, such as CCFR and library districts, will not collect any increases or any property taxes on new developments within those TIF boundaries.

For example, if an empty lot’s property value is assessed at $1 million, a levy of $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed value would provide the fire district with $1,500 per month. If a building is constructed and raises the property’s value to $10 million, the district would normally receive $15,000 from the property a month. However, a TIF that began when the property was an empty lot would cap the fire district’s collection at $1,500 per month for the length of the TIF, even if the property value is raised.

This will take effect beginning January 2025 and extend for 25 years. The port established the boundary to fund future improvements to the Ridgefield Waterfront within the next 25 years.

CCFR Chief John Nohr and several fire commissioners publicly opposed the TIF because it impacts the revenue the district collects to fund operations even though firefighters will still respond to calls in the TIF boundaries. In a previous interview with The Reflector, Nohr said, “It’s like your boss saying ‘Hey, I’m going to freeze your pay for the next 25 years, and I’m going to use that money I didn’t spend paying you to make more work for you. So, your workload goes up, and your pay doesn’t go up.”

Earlier this month, CCFR’s commissioners unanimously agreed to an interlocal agreement with the Port of Ridgefield to establish an annual rapport and discuss how the TIF is affecting the fire district.

Those discussions will begin in 2026 at which time, the fire department will present statistics on annual increases in emergency calls and the response costs as properties are developed within the TIF boundary. Port and fire department officials can also discuss potential mitigation if the financial impacts of the TIF become too burdensome.

“What I wanted to do as the fire chief is make sure that there were some protections in there for the next generation,” Nohr said.

The interlocal agreement allows the two entities to enter binding arbitration should they disagree on a mitigation agreement. Under binding arbitration, the two entities would pick three mediators to consider arguments presented by both sides before deciding whose suggested agreement should be followed. Nohr anticipates the fire district will not need to enter binding arbitration in the future, believing CCFR and the Port will come to agreements on their own.

“In my opinion, they’re being good community partners by ensuring that we have a mechanism to make sure we’re getting the mitigation we need years out,” Nohr said.

Nohr believes that he and the district’s commissioners will have retired by the time mitigation is needed. The fire chief expects the TIF boundary’s financial burden to be minimal during the first few years. CCFR leaders previously projected the CCFR to lose out on $17 million to $28 million throughout the next 25 years as more properties are developed.

“I’m not going to be there when these impacts happen, but we’ve left a tool in place for the future generations to help deal with whatever those impacts are,” Nohr said.

The district will make $15 million this fiscal year from property taxes and can only increase its levy rate by 1%, meaning it will earn $15.15 million next year. CCFR is asking voters to approve a levy lid lift in the Aug. 16 primary election to raise its revenue to $18 million next year. Should voters approve the lid lift, property taxes will increase from $1.16 per $1,000 property value to $1.50 in assessed value.