Effect of fire district vote effort to be seen in 2002

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— The people closest to the fire district election on Nov. 7 were basking in the glow of affirmation this week, but the work is just beginning.
Jane McLeod, president of the board of the Steamboat Springs Rural Fire Protection District, said Friday her group needs to begin immediately on the work of preparing its 2001 budget, which is due Dec. 15. Normally that work would have begun in October, but it was delayed pending the outcome of the election.
The general election included two referenda that were voted on by just less than two-thirds of the 3,000 voters who own property in the district. Referendum 5A allows the district to raise property taxes and Referendum 5B allows the district to borrow money to purchase new equipment and hire more employees together with the city.
The two referenda passed by almost a 2-to-1 margin.
"That was a nice mandate," McLeod said. "We carried every precinct except Milner."
The two referenda were approved in the extreme northern portion of south Routt County, in Steamboat II and on the lower Elk River, McLeod said. The biggest portion of the district is in county precinct 10, where voters in the Dakota Ridge, Big Valley and Tree Haus subdivisions also endorsed the two measures.
The final vote on 5A was 1,219 to 636 (59.5 percent in favor), and the final tally on 5B was 1,114 to 699 (54.4 percent in favor).
The district also needs to sit down soon with representatives of the city of Steamboat Springs to begin formalizing an intergovernmental agreement that will bind fire suppression and emergency medical services in the district and the city together for years to come, McLeod said.
The city and the district can now go forward with their plans because of the passage of the two referenda. Under the new agreement, they will continue their historical approach to sharing ambulance and fire services, only under a different financial formula.
Had the two referenda not passed, city officials had said the city would no longer respond to fires outside its city limits.
"We need to sit down and talk about the intent of the agreement," McLeod said. "We need to partner on this one, and they're a good partner."
Mel Stewart, emergency medical services director for the district, said people living in the city and district probably won't notice significant changes until Jan. 2, 2002. A possible exception is that he and Assistant Fire Chief Bob Struble are contemplating basing an ambulance at the mountain fire station this winter to move it closer to the ski area.
However, over the next five years, Stewart said, people will see improved service as the city and district hire new, full-time personnel trained in both fire suppression and emergency medical care, and purchase new equipment.
"Bob and I have prepared a five-year capital budget and the city and district have tentatively agreed to divide all our costs at about a 70/30 split," Stewart said. The city would pay 70 percent of the cost of running the combined operation and the district 30 percent.

To reach Tom Ross call 871-4210 or e-mail tomross@amigo.net

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