Glenwood Springs still pondering fire authority option
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – While the Glenwood Springs Rural Fire District is inclined to sign on to the new Colorado River Fire Rescue Authority, city officials are still not sure it would benefit in-city fire protection services.
City Council last week had a heart-to-heart talk with rural fire district representatives about the future of the organization and its relationship with the city-run fire department.
The rural district has a separate mill levy, but operates as part of the Glenwood Springs Fire Department through an intergovernmental agreement (IGA). It also relies in part on subsidies from the city’s general fund.
The IGA calls for the district to cover 25 percent of costs associated with service calls in the rural areas.
But with the drop in property valuations, the district has been unable to meet that obligation in recent years. The district is projecting a $20,000 shortfall for 2013, which the city would be asked to cover, rural board president Bill Livingston said at a Sept. 20 work session with City Council.
The district board recently voted to join the new authority, which comes into being this week when the Burning Mountains and Rifle fire protection districts formally sign the necessary documents to consolidate operations.
The move is not a political merger, officials from those districts point out, but rather an effort to achieve better efficiency and cost savings by sharing equipment, personnel and resources.
Glenwood Springs officials have been involved in the consolidation talks for the past two years. But the city wants to see some financial benefits before agreeing to join up, Mayor Matt Steckler said at a Sept. 20 work session.
“At this point, we don’t see the material cost savings that you see,” Steckler advised Livingston at the meeting. “And there’s a lot of upfront liability.”
The rural fire district primarily includes the Three Mile and Four Mile areas, the Highway 82 corridor south to the Garfield County Road 154 intersection, the northern part of Spring Valley, No Name and the Canyon Creek area.
A property tax levy of 6.1 mills used to fund the rural district is inadequate to meet its funding obligation, Livingston said.
The district believes the levy should actually be reset at 6.3 mills, based on a disputed election by district voters in 1994. That additional tax was never levied.
Regardless, it would take a mill levy of 7.5 for the district to meet its share of the budget obligation, Livingston said. That would mean going to voters in November 2013 to ask for a mill levy increase.
Were the Glenwood Springs in-city service area to be merged under a true fire district, doing away with the city-run department, he said the mill levy would need to be about 8.2 mills.
In any case, Livingston said he believes it makes sense for both the city and the district to join the new authority by 2014.
Another option would be for the city to accept the disputed mill levy amount and continue to provide service to the rural area under the IGA. The district would then agree to go to its voters for an additional increase a year from now, Livingston said.
Or, the district could terminate its IGA with the city, take control of the Four Mile fire station, equipment and personnel, and join the fire authority on its own, he said.
“If the fire authority continues to make sense for the district, we will join,” Livingston said.
If the district were to terminate its agreement with the city and join the authority in 2014, it would have to give a full year’s notice by this coming January, Glenwood Springs City Manager Jeff Hecksel said.
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