Oak Creek Fire Protection District crews train in Oak Creek in 2010. Fire districts are preparing for cuts because of projected decreases in property values.

Oak Creek Fire Protection District crews train in Oak Creek in 2010. Fire districts are preparing for cuts because of projected decreases in property values.

Routt County fire districts plan for cuts

South Routt area expected to be hit hardest by decreases

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Projected decreases in property values will result in significant revenue losses for some Routt County fire protection districts.

“Our biggest hope is we don’t have to lay off any of the career people,” Oak Creek Fire Protection District Chief Chuck Wisecup said Thursday.

His department is expected to be the hardest hit in the county. Routt County Assessor Gary Peterson projects that property values in the district are going to drop 43.4 percent, which would mean an equal drop in tax revenues, which are currently about $747,000.

South Routt County is being hit the hardest largely because the value of vacant land in the Stagecoach area dropped 70 percent since the 2009 reappraisal.

Other fire protection districts in Routt will not be affected as much.

The West Routt Fire Protection District, with current revenues of about $461,000, is expected to drop 7 percent. The North Routt Fire Protection District, with current revenues of $269,000, is expected to drop 12.9 percent. The Yampa Fire Protection District currently receives about $95,500 in tax revenues, and it’s projected to see a 13.7 percent decrease. The rural Steamboat Springs Area Fire Protection District currently has revenues of $1.42 million and could see a 22 percent decrease.

“We are extremely concerned,” said Kathy Connell, president of the Steamboat district’s board of directors.

Cutting budgets

Wisecup said the level of service in the district is going to drop because of the losses. He said he was prepared for the significant decrease, and he expects revenues to drop again with the next reappraisal in 2013.

“The end isn’t here yet,” Wisecup said.

He does not think voters would approve a tax increase, so he is making cuts.

He expects to cut pay for volunteers, who currently work 12-hour shifts Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from May through October, the busy season. That would save about $40,000.

“Initially, not being able to pay volunteers will have the biggest impact,” Wisecup said.

He is worried that volunteers will be discouraged from staying with the department, and it could hurt recruitment, which has been a serious issue in recent years.

“Hopefully they’ll stick with us in the lean years,” Wisecup said.

He said no money is being set aside in next year’s budget for capital purchases, and cuts will likely mean fewer firefighters will be able to respond to calls.

“Our goal is to have two people on 24/7,” Wisecup said.

He is considering raising fees for burn permits and said he is going to propose to the board that the plan review fee be raised from $35 to $150.

The good news for the Oak Creek district is that the boom years helped pay for new equipment and to complete the fire station in Stagecoach, and today the department is “doing pretty good,” Wisecup said.

“We were playing 30 years worth of catch-up,” he said.

In North Routt, Fire Chief Bob Reilley said the 12.9 percent decrease in revenues was smaller than the 20 or 30 percent the district was preparing for, but it still will have an impact.

“Primarily it’s going to affect us in our long-range capital equipment replacement,” he said. “In the long term you face some challenges.”

The district has three vehicles from the 1970s that will need replacing, Reilley said.

He said there have not been discussions of asking voters to increase taxes in the North Routt district.

In West Routt, the board is considering asking voters to increase the tax, which has not been raised in 31 years and is the lowest rate in the county. This would help offset the 7 percent loss in revenues and would help the department address staffing and equipment needs. If they don’t meet those needs, district officials say insurance rates likely will increase for residents.

Steamboat district board members are looking at where cuts can be made and whether they will need to dip into reserves.

“Where we go and how we go is really going to be tricky because of budget challenges,” said Connell, the board’s president. “Out of bad times come creative ideas.”

The projected 22 percent decrease in revenues comes as the district is in negotiations with the city to consolidate emergency response services. The ultimate goal would be a voter-approved property tax to provide a permanent funding source. That vote could occur within five years.

An outside consultant is evaluating service by the city and district. The report is expected later this month and should offer some guidance, Connell said.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com

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