The Steamboat Springs City Council and the Steamboat Springs Rural Fire Protection District will meet tonight to discuss consolidation.
The two boards are expected to discuss what steps are needed to consolidate and whether moving forward with the process is practical, Councilwoman Nancy Kramer said.
"We are not saying we have to do it this year," Kramer said. Rather, both sides want to explore what consolidation would require and the potential benefits of consolidation versus the drawbacks, she said.
A consolidated fire district would require a property tax to fund it. Getting city voters -- who have to approve the consolidation and any new tax -- to accept a property tax could be difficult, council members fear.
In 2002 and again in 2003, city residents turned down property tax proposals that would have paid for fire and EMS services.
In the final report released last week by the city's Tax Policy Advisory Board, a property tax was not recommended. Instead, the board decided the city's tax structure should not change and it should continue to rely mainly on sales tax as its revenue source.
"There are some very tough questions," Kramer said. "We want to ask those questions and get it out there."
A newly formed or expanded district would have its own board and elections overseeing a district that would cover more than 400 square miles.
Consolidation discussions are not new.
In 1999, consolidation talks began, and in 2001, an intergovernmental agreement was signed that merged the two entities. A year later, the city took over operation of the fire and EMS services.
The joint agreement between the two entities is based on a formula using population and the number of calls each area receives. The city pays roughly 70 percent of the operating costs and the district pays 30 percent. The district covers its costs through a property tax.
Kramer and fire district board member Ben Beall said the most sensible way to consolidate is to form a district or have the city included in the existing district.
Under state law, the only way to fund that district would be through a property tax. As it does with all its departments, the city funds its fire department largely through sales tax revenue.
Beall said consolidating the two entities would create a more stable source of revenue for fire and EMS protection.
"What we would like to do is to ensure stability of those services to our constituents," Beall said.
But consolidation also comes with questions of how the district would count the city's numerable capital assets and replace the accounting, administrative and personnel benefits the city does in house for the fire department.
The two boards also will look at a timeline for getting a consolidation measure passed by city and district residents. The timeline starts in August with the announcement of forming a district, contains a four-month process for the county to determine whether the city land should be included in the district and ends in May with a public vote.