Mike McKibbin

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September 19, 2012
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Combined fire authority becomes official with IGA ceremony

Despite only two of four fire and ambulance services in Garfield County so far agreeing to participate, Colorado River Fire Rescue will be officially recognized Wednesday night.

That's when representatives of the Rifle Fire Protection District and Burning Mountains Fire Protection District will sign an intergovernmental agreement as members of the authority. The Glenwood Springs Fire Department and Rural Fire District could join later, along with several others.

The agreement will be officially signed by the two districts on Wednesday, Sept. 26, at a 6 p.m. ceremony at the Lakota Canyon Fire Station, 775 Castle Valley Blvd., in New Castle.

The recognition will culminate eight years of efforts, Rifle Fire Protection District Chief Mike Morgan explained to City Council earlier this month.

A levy of 6.102 mills will fund the authority, Morgan said, which is slightly lower than the Rifle district's current levy.

"We get 97 percent of our revenues from property taxes, and with property values being pretty volatile, we think that's a good starting point," Morgan stated.

The average mill levy for a fire district in Colorado is nine mills, he added.

Deputy Fire Chief Chad Harris said Tuesday the mill levy does not need voter approval, since it's not an increase in taxes. In fact, neither district's overall mill levy will change, Harris said.

"It's a combination of revenue from the existing rates in both districts," he explained.

Fire insurance rates for homes and businesses in the new authority should drop, Morgan said, while each district will maintain control over its own capital expenditures.

Morgan, who will be chief of the new authority, said talks about forming a combined district began in 2003 and picked up momentum when Silt's West Care Ambulance Service ceased operations in 2010. The Burning Mountains District now provides emergency medical and fire response services in Silt and New Castle.

"When the chiefs got together to plan how to implement that change, we realized that while we cover a very large area, our calls for service really aren't tremendous," Morgan said.

The two districts handle between 3,500 to 4,000 calls a year, he noted. So the districts started looking at ways to move personnel and equipment around to best serve the area, Morgan said, and increase efficiencies.

"We already were sharing a significant amount of people for things like vacations and the like," he added. "Rifle had provided the staff for 24-hour protection and when the [Lakota] station was completed, they helped staff the Silt station, too."

Burning Mountains Fire Chief Brit McLin will be a division chief in charge of fire prevention and support services, and Rifle administrative chief Connie Guerette will add those duties for the authority.

McLin said Tuesday that fire engines and ambulances will gradually start displaying the authority's logo.

The two districts agreed to basically "erase our boundaries," Morgan said, and respond to calls with the closest resources in terms of people and equipment.

They were also able to eliminate seven to nine pieces of "rolling stock," or engines and the like, saving money where they would have had to purchase new equipment, Morgan said.

"Pumpers can cost around $500,000, so we're talking about saving real dollars," he noted.

Other efficiencies come through joint purchasing, shared training resources and other combined practices, Morgan added.

Public input was gained through a stakeholder process and scheduled open houses, he said. A final report was completed last November that recommended a regional fire district be established by July of this year, Morgan explained.

"We felt that was a little aggressive and wanted a little more time to study things," he said.

Both districts will remain in place after the authority is officially recognized, Morgan said. Each one designates representatives to the authority board to oversee the budget and operations, he added.

"We've talked to the Grand Valley, Carbondale and even the Gypsum fire districts about joining and they all seemed open and receptive," Morgan said. "One thing we wanted to do, though, was not do too much at once."

Councilman Keith Lambert, who served on the authority's steering committee, summed up the upcoming authorization of the combined authority in three words.

"It's about time," he said.

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The Post Independent Updated Sep 20, 2012 01:02PM Published Sep 19, 2012 05:55PM Copyright 2012 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.