By the end of April, the Rifle Fire Protection District could cease to exist as a separate entity.
That’s when a Ninth Judicial District Court judge is expected to issue an order changing the boundaries of the district to match those of the former Burning Mountains Fire Protection District, now known as the Colorado River Fire Protection District.
The Rifle district board voted 4-0 at a special meeting Tuesday night to approve a resolution that effectively calls for the merger of the two districts. The move will also mean property owners in the Rifle district will see a .182-mill reduction in their property taxes and could save on fire insurance rates, according to Fire Chief Mike Morgan.
“Most of the district is rated a class 6 or a class 5 by the [Insurance Services Office] and we’ve been told this move should put us in a class 3 rating,” Morgan said. “Only 3.6 percent of fire districts in the country are able to meet the requirements to be in that class.”
Morgan said each homeowner should contact their insurance agent to see how much they might save, once the merger is finalized.
Before the board voted to approve the move, two Rifle residents spoke at a public hearing in favor of the move. No one spoke in opposition.
Keith Lambert, a former fire district board member and longtime former city councilman and mayor, said the merger “makes perfect sense.”
“I know this is the direction the district has been heading for a long time,” Lambert said. “I think that any time you can reduce or eliminate bureaucracy, it is a benefit to taxpayers.”
Another former Rifle city councilman and mayor, Dave Ling, said the cooperation between the two districts has always been great, so the merger made sense.
“I think you have an incredible opportunity to cut the top heaviness and streamline a bureaucracy,” he stated. “I think this is a huge step in the right direction.”
Morgan said he had received just four phone calls about the merger since the plans were announced before the end of last year, and discussed at public board meetings for the last four or five years.
“It’s important to note that no change in services will result because of this,” he added.
For legal reasons, the property belonging to two Rifle board members, Ed Ogden and John Sandquist, were excluded from the move until a judge issues an order changing the borders of the Rifle district to match those of the newly named Colorado River Fire Protection District. The Burning Mountains Fire Protection District board has approved the merger plans and name change.
The merger is a continuation of the process that formed the Colorado River Fire Rescue Authority in 2012, allowing the two districts to operate administratively as one, while keeping each district intact. That still left three boards, three different budgets and much duplication of administrative functions, board Chairman Rex Rhule noted.
The new district will cover an 851-square-mile service area, including Rifle, Silt and New Castle, with 120 trained volunteer, part-time and full-time firefighters and EMS personnel.
Dino Ross, an attorney for the Colorado River Fire Protection District, said he expected a district court judge to issue an order approving the merger before the end of April.