As city’s plans for new police station progress, proposal for new fire station on pause
May 15, 2013
Steamboat Springs — While the plans to build a new police station in Steamboat Springs are progressing in the wake of the canceled sale of 840 Yampa St., the plans to build a new fire station are on pause.
Officials said they won’t move forward until after the city and the Steamboat Springs Area Fire Protection District, which contracts emergency services from the city, agree on a long-term vision for fire and emergency service here.
Until February, a new fire station was included in all of the city’s multiple proposals to relocate its emergency services out of the existing headquarters on Yampa.
But with the sale of the building now off the table, a new police station has taken priority, and the most recent discussions in Steamboat Springs City Council chambers did not include the future of the fire department’s presence downtown.
"We’re kind of in a holding pattern for a couple of things," Fire Chief Mel Stewart said this week. "One is to see where council goes with the police station, and the other is I’m currently working on a strategic plan for the fire department."
Stewart said the strategic plan, started by his predecessor Ron Lindroth, will outline where the fire department sees itself 10 years from now, including its projected staffing needs and the best locations for stations.
Now that the proposed sale of 840 Yampa St. has been called off, he added, there is no pressing need for the city to move its firefighting presence out of downtown.
The downtown station is staffed by two firefighters and is an active response station that complements the headquarters on Pine Grove Road.
"We’re doing a fine job with what we’ve got now," he said.
He said the strategic plan will help to determine when and where any new fire stations should be built.
When the sale of the current downtown fire and police building was progressing, the city proposed building as many as two new fire stations, one at the site of the Stock Bridge Transit Center and another west of city limits.
The city started negotiating with the fire district to have them cover 73 percent of the construction cost on the second station.
But in February, members of the City Council voted to table any further discussion about a new fire station until the city reaches a resolution with the fire district about revisions to the intergovernmental agreement between them, a process that has been ongoing for years.
Officials on both sides of the ongoing discussions between the district and the city said Wednesday that progress is being made at their meetings.
"I think we’ve defined the shortcomings in the present IGA, and we’re all working very well together," said Kathy Connell, president of the fire district board of directors.
The district, which generates its funding through property taxes, contracts fire and emergency services from the city.
In recent years, the district has covered about 27 percent of the city’s operating budget for those services as well as 33 percent of the capital improvements.
But there has been some tension between the city and the district regarding the fire service and the intergovernmental agreement that was adopted in 2002, when Steamboat moved from a volunteer to a professional department.
The city has been concerned about the rising cost of providing emergency services, and the district has been looking for ways to improve emergency response times as well as secure expanded service and more influence, among other things.
A 2011 study of the city’s fire and EMS service showed that in 2010, the department’s average response time in city limits was 9.6 minutes, while the average time in the rural district was much higher at 19.2 minutes.
When a task force including city officials, two City Council members and members of the fire protection district board started meeting last year to revise the intergovernmental agreement, Connell told the Steamboat Today that the goal of the negotiations was to "recognize the greater community outside city limits and determine how best to serve those residents while continuing to meet Steamboat’s fire and emergency service needs."
She, along with City Council President Bart Kounovsky, said Wednesday that the discussions have shifted away from revising the agreement to first agreeing on a long-term strategic plan and then determining how the two sides should fund it.
Connell added that the city’s lack of a property tax to fund fire and emergency service remains "an elephant in the room."
The city did propose imposing a property tax to fund fire service in 2002 and 2003, but the measures failed at the ballot box.
"The discussions in the coming months will be twofold," Connell said. "One, discussion is going to be on where is the next station going to go and how are we going to fund it, and the parallel conversation to that will be on the strategic plan."
To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com