Steamboat City Council hears report on fire services

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— After hearing a report about fire and emergency services for Steamboat Springs and the surrounding area Tuesday, Steamboat Springs City Council members decided they wanted more information.

City Council unanimously approved a motion asking city staff, including Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue Chief Ron Lindroth, and the rural Steamboat Springs Area Fire Protection District board of directors to prepare responses to the report that could be presented at the Feb. 7 meeting. The council also asked for information about the department’s salaries, which weren’t included in the report.

The report prepared by the International City/County Managers Association identified some recommendations after evaluating fire services for the city and rural fire district that surrounds it. The district contracts fire and emergency services from the city.

The report suggested that the district and city reach an agreement to collaborate as one entity managed by the district that use demand-based staffing and volunteer workers to cut costs that would be paid by a city and district property tax, ICMA Senior Manager Dan Kleman said.

But the City Council wasn’t ready to approve anything.

“I see the entire group out there,” council member Kevin Kaminski said referring to more than 20 firefighters and members of the rural district board. “Are we making decisions that involve them? I think we are, and we’re not even involving them in our conversations.”

Steamboat enlisted the association after talks to combine the two into a single property-tax funded district broke down. The district decided not to ask city voters to consider a property tax for fear that it wouldn’t pass and the high costs of the district’s management of all fire services were prohibitive for the city.

Council members Kenny Reisman and Sonja Macys said it was important to establish the City Council’s primary goal. They agreed that it was about creating a new agreement with the district.

“If the goal is cost savings, that’s one thing,” Macys said. “If the goal is long term, repairing the relationship with the fire district to potentially serve our community better, we’ll probably be having a different discussion, and I would prefer the latter.”

Kathy Connell, president of the rural district’s board of directors, said the board was ready to resume those talks with the city.

“But we need to change the culture,” she told the City Council. “The district isn’t a customer of yours. We’re a partner. We want to collectively be a partner and work with you to provide the best services possible.”

Operational costs for the city’s fire and emergency services have increased 156 percent during the past decade as it moved from a volunteer to professional department and as the city’s general fund increased 13 percent. Operational costs have increased 33 percent since 2010.

Many council members didn’t seem concerned that costs increased so much as the department moved from a volunteer staff with about five paid employees to a paid professional staff of about 35 with a few volunteers.

Council members seemed willing to do whatever it takes to make sure the best services are provided for Steamboat residents. Chief Lindroth acknowledged that could take some time, but he seemed OK with that.

“Tonight was open, focused discussion that will really shed light on the fire services,” Lindroth said after the meeting. “I think we’ll continue to be in information gathering, but as we get more into finer details, I hope our governing bodies will be able to make some better decisions about services.”

In other action, the City Council:

■ Approved unanimously and without discussion a resolution naming a road after Police Chief JD Hays, who is retiring Friday. The connector between U.S. Highway 40 and Pine Grove Road next to Ski Town fields and the Tennis Center at Steamboat Springs will be called JD Hays Way.

Hays is retiring after 32 years with the department. In 1997, he was named director of public safety, a title that changed to chief in 2009.

The road, which actually is a portion of Pine Grove, will be dedicated during public ceremony at 11 a.m. Thursday, his last day.

■ Applauded Wendy DuBord, as did the remaining members of the audience, after she said Tuesday was her last City Council meeting.

DuBord’s relinquished her role as deputy city manager Oct. 6 but has worked part time since. Her last day is Thursday. She spent 19 years with the city, all but five of which as deputy city manager.

“It’s been an honor to serve with you and work with you over the years, some longer than others,” she said.

■ Heard a presentation about the Outstanding Facility Award that was given to the Tennis Center at Steamboat Springs.

■ Heard a presentation from Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. Vice President of Mountain Operations Doug Allen about the ski area’s 10-year master plan.

To reach Jack Weinstein, call 970-871-4203 or email jweinstein@SteamboatToday.com

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