Financially tapped Colorado River Fire Rescue intends to revisit ballot box
As funding drops, Colorado River Fire Rescue plans to ask voters for the second time in two years to bolster funding through property taxes.
Though annual funding has dropped by more than $2.5 million since 2017, call volume for the Colorado River Fire Rescue district continues to increase, said a fire official.
In May 2020, a measure to add 6.099 mills to the current levy, which would have generated $4.72 million to help balance the fire district’s budget, was defeated by the voters. The outcome meant the district was forced to close Station 43 in south Rifle.
Over the course of 2020, in fact, the district that covers 851 square miles east of New Castle and west of Rifle has seen a 6.1% increase in 911 calls since 2019.
The district currently has six stations, four of which are staffed.
“For the past five years, demand for emergency services has continued to increase,” CRFR Board President Alan Lambert told Rifle City Council on May 5. “It’s been a perfect storm.”
“With the closing of the station in south Rifle, that has increased the response time specifically to that area by over a minute,” CRFR Fire Chief Leif Sackett said. “And it’s further increased the risk on citizens that we serve as well as the demand on our personnel.”
Lambert and Sackett, however, told the council last week that they have intentions to revisit the ballot box in November. They said, this time, the funding would be delivered in a “phased-in” approach, where there’s a gradual increase in taxes over time.
Lambert said the approach will meet the demand of the district while making it financially easier for residents.
In addition to losing an entire fire station, CRFR has seen significant reductions in capital and personnel in recent memory. Lambert said six vacant spots are yet filled. The district has also reduced first responders from 13 to 11 employees.
Meanwhile, the district has sold equipment and utility vehicles to supplement revenue. In fact, former CRFR Chief Randy Callahan retired early in December 2020 to help ease financial restraints.
Lambert said their fund balance has also drawn down by more than 60% since 2016.
Sackett said so far the district hasn’t been able to find other funding sources.
“This year, we’re unable to go after any grant funding unless it’s 100% funded,” he said. “So, the urgency for future funding for CRFR is reinforced by the need for services and the increase in call demand. It’s been 27 years since the citizens of Rifle have had a mill levy increase for fire protection in this area.”
Right now, CRFR also worries about drought conditions further increasing the need for services. According to drought.gov, 81.15% of Garfield County falls under “exceptional drought conditions” — the most severe rating on the drought scale. This means dust storms and topsoil removal are widespread while agricultural and recreational economic losses are large.
“We’re looking at a very difficult fire season ahead,” Lambert said. “We’re looking at extreme drought.”
Reporter Ray K. Erku can be reached at 612-423-5273 or email@example.com
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