Steamboat Springs The Steamboat Springs Rural Fire Protection District will ask voters for a funding increase on the May 2008 ballot. Without increased revenue, district officials say they won't be able to provide the current level of fire and ambulance service as early as 2010.
In a Hill Research Consultants telephone survey conducted in October, respondents indicated they preferred to maintain current levels of service under mutual cooperation between the Steamboat Springs Rural Fire Protection District and the city rather than create a new independent fire district at a higher cost.
While 54 percent of respondents said they favored a $514,000 property tax increase to maintain existing service, only 21 percent said they would fund a $1.4 million tax increase to create an independent district with expanded services and a larger budget.
"It doesn't make sense to have two different fire districts and a lot more taxes is what voters told us," said Bob Kuusinen, fire protection district board member and past president.
The district had been planning to go to voters; the impetus for the survey was to figure out exactly what question it should ask district voters, district board President Steve Hilley said.
The projected future shortfall the fire district would face would limit its ability to keep providing emergency services as well as hamper its ability to expand services to keep up with growth, Hilley said.
"As we proceed forward, and our projections are coming out true, we try to keep our mill levies as low as possible while maintaining our level of service," Hilley said.
Increasing the district's existing mill levy to provide an additional $514,000 a year would result in a property tax hike of $70 a year for a home valued at $600,000.
District officials said the funds would allow it to add firefighting, EMS and support staff as well as purchase additional equipment and help build future facilities. There is talk of building a fire station west of town, possibly in the Steamboat 700 development still in the planning stages, as well as one south of Steamboat near Catamount Ranch and Club, Hilley said.
The May vote will be by mail-in ballot, Kuusinen said.
Forming an independent fire district would allow for improved fire and EMS response times, officials said, but would cost taxpayers an additional $1.4 million a year.
According to an intergovernmental agreement adopted in 2001, the city provides fire service to the 470-square-mile fire protection district through Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue, and the Steamboat Springs Rural Fire Protection District provides ambulance service. The city funds 70 percent of operations through sales tax, and the fire protection district contributes the rest, which comes from property taxes and ambulance user fees.
In the event that the fire protection district became independent, Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue would no longer respond to fires outside of city limits, unless they were called in to assist, Assistant Fire Chief Bob Struble said.
The idea of developing a new taxing entity to provide both fire and ambulance services has been under discussion by the city and its emergency services since June. The move was suggested by a consulting group brought in to make recommendations on the joint funding agreement between the city and the district, and also to make suggestions on how to provide more equitable service between residents who live inside and outside of city limits.
However, there are pros and cons to creating an independent fire district, and its major shortcoming is that it doesn't have the support of the voters, Hilley said.
Duplicating existing services does not really make sense unless voters truly want to pay for more fire stations closer to their homes and quicker response times, he said.