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Fire district to vote on tax hike

Burning Mountains Fire Protection District residents go to the polls May 7 to vote on whether to increase property taxes from the current 4.625 mills to 6 mills.

The fire district’s 2002 budget is $470,315. The first full year of collections would add $115,715 in revenues, according to district sources.

The increase would raise yearly taxes on a $100,000 house from $42 to $54. It would increase the taxes on a $100,000 piece of commercial property from the current $134 to $174 per year.



The tax increase would fund the district’s first-ever paid responders, who would concentrate on daytime duties.

“Most of the volunteers are out of the area during the day,” said fire board member Brit McLin.



The bulk of the volunteer force that stays in the New Castle area during the day works for Talbott Enterprises, whose operations include the Apple Tree Mobile Home Park and three retail stores. Those employees are often called to daytime emergencies.

“We’re one of the few companies with a large number of volunteers,” said Russell Talbott, himself a longtime fire district volunteer. “It’s a burden sometimes when they have to drop what they are doing and run.”

Board member Bob Thrower said the mill levy increase would fund four state-certified firefighters. Their duties would include vehicle maintenance, inspections, training and firefighting.

McLin said some of the increased tax revenues would buy protective gear to outfit firefighters.

“We thought on this long and hard,” McLin said. “We want to provide good quality fire protection.”

Last year, the district budgeted for its first-ever paid fire chief. McLin said the new chief, David Yowell, formerly of Penrose, came on board two weeks ago.

The Burning Mountains Fire Protection District covers 440 square miles in the New Castle and Silt area, north and south from the Mesa and Rio Blanco county lines. It operates fire stations in New Castle, Silt and on County Road 335 outside New Castle.

Like most local districts that rely on volunteers, the Burning Mountains fire district is facing at least two challenges.

On one hand, the district’s population is growing quickly, which leads to more calls for more service. At the same time, recruiting new volunteers is becoming more difficult.

Talbott said more potential volunteers are working multiple jobs, and many commute great distances, which cuts the amount of free time they have for training and service.

The number of hours volunteers must devote to training has increased with new firefighting technology. Volunteers must also learn how to work around such things as inflated vehicle airbags, and other technologies that didn’t exist 10 or 15 years ago.

“Some volunteers say they are lucky if they can make one training session a month, and they should be making three,” Talbott said. “The job is becoming more technical, and more burdensome.”

Adding up the staffing challenges the district faces right now and expected dry conditions this summer, Talbott said, “The fire season could be another intense one.”

The polling place for precincts 16 and 17 is at Fire Station No. 1, located on Main Street in Silt, and for precincts 13, 14 and 15 is at Fire Station No. 3, located at 5180 County Road 335, New Castle.

Three fire board candidates are also running unopposed for four-year terms: Kristine Erpestad, Michael E. Watts and Brit C. McLin.


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