Fire district expected to ask for higher mill levy


— Voters in the Steamboat Springs Rural Fire Protection District are likely to be asked to vote for a tax increase on Nov. 7.

For homeowners, the increase in property taxes could range between $98 and $156 on $300,000 of property, according to Routt County Assessor Amy Williams.

For owners of commercial property, the tax increase would range between $292 and $466. However, there is very little commercial property within the district boundaries.

The property tax question is coming about as a result of negotiations between the Fire District's board of directors and the city of Steamboat Springs.

The district board of directors won't decide for certain the mill levy they are seeking, and thus the amount of the tax increase, until later this summer. First they want to consult with city officials to put together the five-year capital budget that will be supported by the property tax increase and a corresponding bond issue.

"The linchpin is that capital plan," Board President Jane McLeod said Thursday. "We don't want to go to our voters with something nebulous and vague."

The capital plan should give the voters more specific information about the kinds of fire trucks and facilities the bond issue would fund.

The two political entities have cooperated since the early '80s in the effort to provide emergency medical/ambulance services and fire fighting both inside the city and in the larger surrounding district. The joint effort has been conducted under an agreement in which the city provided fire fighting to both communities, and the district provided the EMS/ambulance to both.

The geographical boundaries of the district roughly describe an area within a 10-mile radius of Steamboat, McLeod said. The district boundaries stretch as far as Milner to the west, Mad Creek to the northwest and Lake Catamount to the south.

Talks to renew the agreement have been at an impasse for more than a year, as the two governmental entities have tried to work out new cost sharing and management issues, many of them driven by growth.

Now, the two parties have agreed on a memo of understanding establishing a new arrangement in which the city will assume responsibility for managing both fire fighting and EMS/ambulance in both the city and district beginning in 2002. The proposed mill levy increase is part of the memo of understanding. Another requirement of the memo is that the district ask its voters for a bond issue to fund capital items like fire trucks and facilities.

The city and the district have tentatively agreed to move forward with a cost-sharing plan based on a complicated set of formulas that take into account the number and types of emergency calls that take place in 10 different zones within the district.

The amount of the mill levy is still very tentative. But the memo of understanding with the city calls for a district mill levy of 5 to 7.

Currently, the mill levy that funds the district is 1.6. The application of the mill levy will be uniform throughout the district.

The creation of some form of capital plan can't be too far away, MacLeod said the board's target date for going to bond counsel is Aug. 1. And the ballot language for the election must be certified with the county clerk's office by Sept. 8.

The district won't disappear after Jan. 1, 2002. That's the date when the city of Steamboat Springs assumes responsibility for fire and emergency medical services both in within the city and the surrounding district.

City Manager Paul Hughes said this week the district will continue to fund its requirements for EMS and fire suppression through its own property tax, much as it always has. Therefore, it will continue on as a taxing entity.

Ben Beall, who wears two hats as a member of the fire protection district board and as a Routt County commissioner, concurred with Hughes. The fire district will still have a board of directors and the revenues from its property tax millage will still come to the board, Beall said.

City Director of Public Safety Services J.D. Hays confirmed on Wednesday that he will oversee the fire fighting and EMS/ambulance operations after Jan. 1, 2002.

Hays said employees in the city fire department and in the district were assured months ago that they would continue to have jobs after the two operations come under his supervision. Discussions about how the personnel will be structured still must take place, Hays said.

The memo of understanding says that the provision of EMS and fire fighting for the district and the city will continue as provided for under the pre-existing agreement through Dec. 31, 2000. The new cost-sharing arrangement will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2001. During 2001, the city will continue providing fire services and the district will continue providing EMS.

Beall said he still believes it would be more efficient for constituents of both the district and the city if EMS and fire fighting were fully merged under one system. He believes the new arrangement that preserves a fire district funded by property taxes and the city funded by sales taxes is cumbersome.

But for now, Beall said he thinks the provisions of the memo of understanding are in the interests of the residents of the district.

"At this time, this is the best way to go for our constituents," Beall said."This is a community issue. We're all in this together. Let's find the best system for everybody that provides fire and emergency medical services at a reasonable cost."

To reach Tom Ross call 871-4210 or e-mail


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