Burning Mountain, Rifle fire districts eye merger
December 13, 2013
RIFLE — Two historic fire protection districts in western Garfield County may soon merge with the recently created Colorado River Fire Rescue authority (CRFR) to form a new entity — the Colorado River Fire Protection District — according to the authority's current chief, Mike Morgan.
And the opening discussion of the idea will happen at a meeting today at the Garfield County Sheriff's Department annex near the county airport southeast of Rifle. The meeting starts at 9 a.m., Morgan said, and the public is invited.
And for those who cannot get to today's meeting, Morgan said, "there will be many more meetings" before the issue is settled.
If formed, the new district would provide fire protection and ambulance services to the towns of New Castle, Silt and Rifle, as well as to a 700 square miles of rural terrain around those communities. Its financial support would come from the taxpayers who historically have paid the bills of the Rifle and Burning Mountain fire protection districts.
Currently, the authority essentially is the managing entity for the equipment, buildings and personnel that once was the province of the separate districts, in an arrangement that was put together in 2012. The authority serves an area of 700 square miles, with 47 full-time employees, 30 part-timers and 35 volunteers, according to a recent Post Independent story.
As Morgan noted, the current arrangement "means we have three boards of directors, three separate budgets and three legal counsels," which he said is an inefficient use of resources.
He said the idea of merging the Rifle and Burning Mountain districts formally has been discussed since the authority was created, and added that it would not be a bad thing for taxpayers.
"The taxes in Rifle would go down, and the taxes in Burning Mountain would stay the same," he said, explaining that the Rifle tax rate now stands at 6.284 mills, while the Burning Mountain rate is 6.102 mills (a mill is equal to one-tenth of a cent, as applied to the assessed value of a home, business or other real property).
"In order to do this, we would go to the lowest mill rate," Morgan said.
He said the change, if it goes ahead, is not expected to cause the loss of personnel, equipment or other assets.
"This really doesn't change things operationally," he said.
Already, Morgan said, the ISO rating for the authority's service area has improved "significantly" since the authority was created. The ISO rating, he said, is what the insurance industry looks at in setting insurance rates for homes, businesses and other property in the district, with ratings from 1-10 — 1 being the best.
Pointing out that the ISO rating for the Rifle district stood at 5/9 before the authority — 5 for properties served by a fire hydrant, and 9 for properties not served by hydrants. For the Burning Mountain district, he said, the rating was 6/9 prior to creation of the authority.
Now, he said, the authority's ISO rating is 3/8-B. The 8-B is a new rating for rural service, indicating a department that can pump 4,000 gallons into a fire within a certain time.
To determine exactly what the new ISO rating means for property owners, Morgan said, "I think each homeowner and business owner will have to talk to their individual insurance companies about what that change will mean."
The main goal of the idea of merging, he said, is to improve levels of service wherever possible.
"First and foremost, the fire department needs to be capable of providing quality services to its community," he said, adding that the improvement in the ISO ratings "means it's working."
Merging, he said, will lead to better sharing of equipment, which in the long run could save taxpayer money by avoiding duplication in purchasing trucks and other gear.