Monday, February 12, 2001
Steamboat Springs Fire and ambulance services in Steamboat Springs and the surrounding rural area will receive a significant upgrade as of Jan. 1, 2002, because of a recent agreement between the city and the rural fire protection district, officials from both sides said.
A ballot issue approved in November provides more money to the rural district and paves the way for the cost-sharing agreement approved by City Council Feb. 6. The city will now control all personnel of both the ambulance and fire departments for the city and the Steamboat Springs Rural Fire Protection District. The agreement will amend a previous deal between the city and the district, which had the district covering ambulance services while the city fought fires for Steamboat and the district.
"I think what we have here is going to be an improvement for not only the rural district but also the rest of the city," City Manager Paul Hughes said.
The agreement also allows for the city to hire 10 new cross-trained personnel who will be able to both fight fires and provide ambulance services.
The city is essentially the hole in the doughnut described by the district boundaries. The two political entities had a longstanding agreement that called for the city fire department to respond to fire alarms in the district, and the ambulance and emergency medical service run by the district to respond to calls within the city limits.
The arrangement avoided costly duplication of services, but the fiscal pressures created by growing communities made the arrangement undesirable to the city.
Under the new cost-sharing agreement, the new personnel will be paid for out of the city's general fund and the district's assessed property taxes.
The cost-sharing agreement will play out to a rough 73/27 split to support operations and 67/33 for capital projects, said district President Jane McCleod. The city will pay the majority of the cost.
The formula will be revised to account for assessed valuation and call volume in each district once those numbers are calculated, McCleod said.
The phasing-in of new personnel worried a number of ambulance professionals when they first heard about the agreement, even though the agreement ensures that all current personnel will have jobs come Jan. 1. With the prospect of a streamlined corps of cross-trained professionals, some ambulance workers were afraid they would no longer fit the job description.
City officials, however, said they have done their best to quell those concerns.
"There's going to be a place for everybody," Assistant Fire Chief Bob Struble said.
The rural district, which encompasses 428 square miles of property surrounding Steamboat, will draw on funds from a ballot issue passed in November to pay the city for both ambulance and firefighting services.
The approximately 3,000 residents of the rural fire protection district voted to increase their property taxes to fund the district's operating expenses and bond for a new fire station and equipment. The pair of referenda passed by a near 2-to-1 margin, with the fire station proving slightly more contentious. Before the vote, city officials had warned the district that without the financial assistance those referenda provided, the city would not be able to stay in the mutual aid agreement.
The language of the referenda put to the voters last fall did not name a specific mill levy increase because capital and operating budgets weren't yet firm. Instead, one asked the voters to permit the district to increase district taxes by $130,000 in 2001, and "annually thereafter at a rate sufficient to generate no more than $520,000 in each year."
The second approved referenda asked the voters to increase debt by no more than $2 million with a repayment cost of not more than $4.2 million when interest is calculated.
For the average homeowner in the district, it meant a substantial increase in the amount of property tax he or she pays the district on a percentage basis. However, the actual amount of tax will be fairly modest the first year.
Homeowners in the district paid a tax of $48.10 on $300,000 of valuation in 1999. That amount will increase by $54 to $102 this year. By 2005, property taxes on $300,000 of valuation in the district will increase by $165.