Carbondale fire district mill levy approved | PostIndependent.com

Carbondale fire district mill levy approved

Paramedics Logan Piccolo and Garrett Kennedy pose with a Carbondale fire district ambulance. District voters approved a two-year, 1.75 mill levy in the election that concluded Tuesday.

Voters in the Carbondale and Rural Fire Protection District OK'd a mill levy increase that will give the district $595,000 in each of the next two years for operations and equipment upgrades.

Preliminary results from the balloting in Tuesday's election had Question 4B passing with 64 percent of voters in favor throughout the fire district, which takes in parts of Garfield, Pitkin and Gunnison counties.

The 1.75 mill levy comes with a two-year sunset clause, which was an attempt by Carbondale Fire Board members to acknowledge objections from a failed 2013 mill levy vote and to give the district a chance to begin implementing its new master plan.

"Our (campaign) committee did a lot of work to try to educate people this time, and I think that worked," Carbondale Fire Board President Gene Schilling said.

"We asked for significantly less this time around, and put the time restriction on it," he said. "What that means is, in those two years, we have a lot of work to do to put a plan together to maintain and upgrade some of our infrastructure."

Though the measure passed, Schilling emphasized "we're not really out of the woods yet."

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When property valuations dropped during the recession, the fire district was able to convince voters in 2011 to approve a 2 mill increase.

As that increase expired in 2013, the district tried for a 6 mill increase with no expiration in attempt to shore up finances for the long term. The measure failed, while property values continued to fall, forcing the district to make budget cuts and dip into reserves.

The new tax is expected to cost the owner of a $500,000 home roughly $70 annually. Coupled with a modest increase in property values, district officials said the new two-year tax is enough to keep the district from dipping into reserves for its third consecutive year.

The extra funding will also go to help support equipment updates, training, volunteer retention and possibly replacing positions that were cut in recent years.

Schilling said the district also plans to reinstate funding for its Initial Attack wildfire watch program, which sends firefighters into high-risk wildfire areas during the summer for quick response in case a fire breaks out.

The program was added to next year's budget at a cost of $50,000 after being supported by private donations for the past two years.

"My belief now is that we do need to look at whatever grants we can find to leverage our funds so that we can update some of our infrastructure," Schilling said. "We also need to work on a plan to put to voters again in two years."

The district is also looking to maybe refinance some of its existing bonds in order to obtain some savings, he said.

"The fact that citizens worked together to get this supported shows me that they have some confidence in us that we are moving in the right direction," Schilling said.