Steamboat City Council weighs in on 7-year plan for fire and ambulance services

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— Talks between this city and the Steamboat Springs Area Fire Protection District have come a long way since they stalled years ago with lawyers in the room.

After nearly a year of new meetings by a small oversight committee, the city and the fire district now have a seven-year strategic plan they said will address staffing and capital needs through 2020.

They've also decided that they are better together than they would be as two separate entities serving the city and a large zone of Routt County that immediately surrounds it.

But a challenge still looms.

Next up, both sides will have to sit down and figure out how to fund their plan.

“That's going to be the tough nut to crack,” fire district board President Kathy Connell told the Steamboat Springs City Council last week as the strategic plan was presented.

The plan proposes minimal staffing increases through 2020 and also includes the possibility of a new fire station west of Steamboat and the establishment of a new or expanded central fire station in downtown Steamboat.

Connell and city officials hope the plan will lead to revisions of the 12-year-old agreement between the city and the fire district that outlines such things as how much each side pays for the services.

Council members weren't asked to sign off on the strategic plan last week, but they did offer some feedback.

“It's a long time coming,” council member Sonja Macys said. “I'm pleased that we've come to the conclusion that working together is better than separating. I hope we can continue the positive relationship.”

Council member Tony Connell was interested in taking a closer look at all the different cost scenarios outlined in the strategic plan and what the benefits of each would be.

And council member Scott Ford wanted to look more closely at how the level of Steamboat's fire and EMS services stacks up against other communities that are comparable to here.

Ford also echoed the sentiment of many past and present City Council members concerned by the rising cost of emergency services.

If the cost of services is going to continue to rise, “what checkbook do we give you?” Ford asked.

He added the cost increases could be enough to “eat the city alive.”

The greatest shift in the cost for fire and ambulance services came in 2002 when Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue transitioned from a volunteer to a professional department, a move that allowed for faster response times.

Looking ahead, the strategic plan projects a 3 percent increase in calls per year through 2020, but officials stressed the plan will be a living document that could change based on how much call growth or decline is seen year to year.

The city and the fire district predict that if call demand grows by 3 percent every year, then their net operating cost would increase by nearly $1 million from now to 2020.

The total cost of the plan for both the city and the fire district is estimated to be $28.3 million, compared to a status-quo cost of $26.7 million. If the city and the fire district split, they project their total costs together would equal $32.9 million with the fire district bearing the brunt of that cost increase.

City Council members pressed fire officials on their projections of a 3 percent increase in call demand each year.

Fire Chief Mel Stewart said history shows it's a number that can be hard to predict.

Stewart said that prior to 2000, the city was seeing call demand grow 7 percent annually, but that growth rate has dropped significantly in recent years.

But, he said, it could change in the future.

“Our call volume is not tracking as it has in the past,” Stewart said.

Adding to the difficulty in projecting future call volumes is the fact that ski and snowboard injuries, one of the more significant types of EMS calls in Steamboat, can fluctuate greatly year to year.

The oversight committee represented by the city and the fire district plans to continue meeting with the goal of eventually making recommendations on how to revise their intergovernmental agreement.

Read the full strategic plan below.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10

Fire and EMS strategic plan

Fire Strategic Plan

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