Rifle, Burning Mountains to form new fire district; public meeting this Tuesday | PostIndependent.com

Rifle, Burning Mountains to form new fire district; public meeting this Tuesday

Frequently Asked Questions about merging the Rifle and Burning Mountains fire protection districts into the Colorado River Fire Protection District

I thought you already did that?

We have consolidated the operations of Burning Mountains Fire Protection District and Rifle Fire Protection District from the fire chief to the firefighters. We have been functioning as a single fire and emergency medical services department under the name, “Colorado River Fire Rescue,” yet there are still three governing boards overseeing the organization. This step reduces the governance to a single board, single budget, single attorney, etc. and provides for additional cost savings and efficiencies.

What does this mean?

The Burning Mountains Fire Protection District and the Rifle Fire Protection District are in the process of becoming a single special district. Even though the two organizations have combined their operations and administrative functions into a single fire and emergency medical services organization (Colorado River Fire Rescue), the underlying political entities remain. In other words, while there is one fire organization, there are still three boards of directors, three budgets, three legal counsels, three auditors, etc. This structure is inefficient, cumbersome, confusing, duplicative, and expensive.

What will change? How does this effect me?

There are two answers to this question. The first, from an operational perspective, is nothing will change. The single operational organization has been functioning for well over a year. It has proven to be less expensive and to provide better service. This does not change the operational components of Colorado River Fire Rescue. The changes are primarily behind the scenes. It takes three boards of directors and reduces them to one elected board ,with representation from throughout the service area. It takes three budgets, three legal counsel groups, three audit’s, etc. and reduces them to one, further reducing cost, duplication, redundancy, and bureaucracy. To complete the consolidation, the mill levy for property owners in the Rifle Fire Protection District will be reduced by .182 mills, lowering taxes. In summary, it reduces the size of governance and lowers your taxes.

Why did we combine the fire departments?

In 2009, the Town of Silt made the decision to no longer provide ambulance services to Silt, New Castle and the surrounding area within Burning Mountains Fire Protection District (BMFPD). The BMFPD agreed to take over providing these services and changed their service plan. The fire chiefs began having conversations about the increased call volumes to BMFPD as well as call types and necessary certification levels. These conversations resulted in a “shared and cooperative services” study. The study found that better services, cost savings and cost avoidance would be realized by combining the operations into a single agency. A copy of the study is available on our website, crfr.us .

Why didn’t we take this issue to a vote?

The simple answer to this is cost and common-sense evaluation. The boards have been discussing this issue for quite some time. With the downturn in the economy, significant reductions in budgets have occurred. In continued efforts to reduce costs without cutting service levels, the boards agreed that a consolidation was the right thing to do. The model has already proven to be more effective and efficient as a single department under the fire authority. Since it has proven itself beyond a doubt, the estimated costs of an election (approximately $25,000) did not seem to be a wise use of funds.

Is it really better?

Yes. The performance standards of the agency have been evaluated and we are able to provide better services to all of the communities and surrounding areas as a single entity. In addition, the Insurance Services Office (ISO) conducted a fire protection rating evaluation on the combined entity in August 2013. This survey resulted in an improvement of the classification from an ISO class 6 in Silt and New Castle, and a class 5 in Rifle, to a class 3 in all areas with fire hydrants. This cut the ISO rating in half in many areas and also lowered the ratings in areas without fire hydrants, due to the water capacity capabilities of a larger organization.

So, give me the short version of what is going on.

1. The fire department itself is not changing. These are administrative adjustments that will not affect the day-to-day emergency operations of the department.

2. The Burning Mountains Fire Protection District (BMFPD) is changing its name to Colorado River Fire Protection District (CRFPD).

3. The tax rate in the Rifle Fire Protection District (RFPD) will be reduced from 6.284 mills to 6.102 mills.

4. The property within the RFPD is being excluded from RFPD and at the same time being included within CRFPD. No disruption in service will happen, as Colorado River Fire Rescue (the actual Fire Department) is already providing service to all of the properties and that is not changing.

5. Elected officials from the BMFPD and RFPD boards will be on the board of CRFPD to provide representation from all of the response area and to give a voice to all communities.

I am a retired volunteer. What does this mean to me and my volunteer pension?

Nothing. The volunteer pension programs, by law, are separate funds for the two retired groups of volunteers. Also, both pension funds are “closed” plans, meaning the people who started as volunteers for either district are the last volunteers to be included in those particular plans. Volunteers who joined (and will join in the future) CRFPD are under a separate program called a Length of Service Award Program (LOSAP.) Your volunteer pension is not going away and will continue to be funded for actuarial soundness by CRFPD.

What legal process of consolidation are you using?

Colorado revised statutes allow districts (or governments) who provide the same services to consolidate for the purpose of efficiencies, provided that taxes are not increased without approval of the voters. The mill levy for BMFPD will remain the same under CRFPD and the RFPD mill levy will decrease (taxes reduced) under CRFPD.

Is this happening fast?

While it may seem that this is happening fast, the reality is that various levels of consolidation between BMFPD and RFPD have been in various stages of conversation since 2003. The actual moving forward with a singular operation has been supported and worked on for about four years, so this is not “new” or fast. All in all, it will have been about a 5-year project to implement the changes and to evaluate the “real world” effectiveness of a single entity. Due to the laws and timelines associated with the consolidation, we must have the “property transfers” completed by May 1 to allow the county assessor the required time to transfer the properties and property taxes.

How much am I paying for fire protection and emergency medical services?

The easiest way to identify what fire protection is costing you is to look at your tax bill from the county assessors office. If that is not readily available, then the property tax calculation for a home is done as follows: For each $100,000 in assessed value, multiply that by 7.96 percent (Gallagher amendment), and then multiply that number by .006102 to determine the actual taxes paid to the district. Using a home with an assessed value of $250,000 as an example, here is the calculation:

$250,000 x .0796 = $19,900

$19,900 x .006102 = 121.4298

Taxes paid $121.43

In 25 words or less, tell me why we are doing this?

It costs less, the department has better response capability, the service is better, it reduces the size of government, and it lowers your insurance rating.

Source: Colorado River Fire Rescue Authority

Two neighboring fire districts that have put out blazes, responded to accidents and taken people to the hospital for the last 38 years in Rifle, Silt and New Castle plan to merge.

While the same level of services will continue once the Burning Mountains Fire Protection District and Rifle Fire Protection District become the Colorado River Fire Protection District, longtime Rifle Fire Chief Mike Morgan said taxpayers will benefit from more efficient management and Rifle property taxes will go down.

The merger is a continuation of the process that formed the Colorado River Fire Rescue Authority in 2012, which allowed the two districts to operate administratively as one, while keeping each district intact, Morgan said.

"Right now, we have three boards, three different budgets and we deal with three different attorneys," he added. "It's just very inefficient."

Colorado River Fire Rescue has provided all fire and emergency services within the two fire departments' combined 851-square-mile service area, with 120 trained volunteer, part-time and full-time firefighters and EMS personnel. The authority maintains seven stations – five staffed stations; one station staffed, along with Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service wild land firefighters; one unstaffed station; and one station used for fleet maintenance.

By creating the authority, according to a news release from the two districts, duplicative administrative and support personnel and services were eliminated, which substantially reduced the cost of providing fire and emergency services; significantly increased their response capabilities across their combined service area; upgraded insurance ratings, which will result in reduced insurance premiums for most people who own homes, businesses or other property within the service area; and decreased the mil levy rate for Rifle property owners, resulting in a reduction to taxpayers.

With a downturn in the economy and significant decrease to property values and assessed values for the two districts, the merger will help the districts continue to reduce costs and increase efficiencies, Morgan said.

Over the last 6 months, the three boards discussed the merger process in their regularly-scheduled monthly public meetings, and at a two-day strategic planning session in the fall of 2012, according to the release. At a combined Dec. 14, 2013, meeting, the Rifle and Burning Mountains boards formally approved moving forward and the Burning Mountains district has already legally changed its name to Colorado River Fire Protection District. At a public meeting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 11, at the Rifle fire station, 1850 Railroad Ave., the Rifle district board will consider whether to transfer all of its service area to the renamed district.

Once the merger is complete in about four months, the Rifle district will be dissolved and the authority eliminated, according to the release, leaving only the Colorado River Fire Protection District to continue providing fire and emergency services to the towns of Silt and New Castle, the City of Rifle and the surrounding area.

Since the property tax rate within the new district will be lower, property owners in the Rifle district will see a .182-mill reduction in their property taxes, Morgan said.

The new district will have an elected 5-member board of directors with representatives of all areas, Morgan added.

More information and details about the merger can be found online at crfr.us and on Facebook at facebook/ColoradoRiverFireRescue.