John Shaw: No on Ref 5A
October 15, 2011
Referendum 5A, a tax increase for the West Routt Fire Protection District, deserves a "no" vote.
This tax increase would add about $575,000 annually to the district's revenue. There is no question that the West Routt Fire Protection District is well-run and does a good job for its citizens. It deserves the best equipment and adequate personnel for the safety of our first responders and to continue to deliver quality services.
But the current proposal does not serve the best interests of either the citizens of West Routt or the department. First, the request suggests that the department needs money for new equipment and that the acquisition of this equipment requires the construction of an addition to the current firehouse. The cost of this equipment and construction is estimated by the West Routt Fire Protection District to be $3.4 million, including $900,000 for a new ladder truck. This truck is needed because there is one building in the fire district that is 35 feet high. The construction cost to renovate the firehouse is $1.25 million. The need for this truck is suspect since agreements with Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue means that they could be on site in less than 30 minutes with one of their ladder trucks if needed.
Other needed equipment includes a new fire truck and a new rescue vehicle. These vehicles are required to replace aging equipment. The new mill levy would pay for all of this in less than six years.
Second, the fire district's board of directors wants to add two additional full-time firefighters/EMTs at a total cost of about $120,000 per year for salary and benefits. When Ross Fralick, fire board president, was asked if the department had sufficient current revenue to continue operations if they did not purchase the new equipment, he replied "yes, but it would be tight." Fralick went on to compare West Routt's mill levy to other departments in Routt County by pointing out that West Routt was much lower, and therefore, "we deserve the mill increase." In these economic times, almost everyone is working with a tight budget.
I would suggest that we vote down Referendum 5A and that the fire district's board, working with a group of West Routt citizens, create a new proposal that fairly addresses the needs of the department. This new proposal should include a detailed budget with a timeline, justification for the ladder truck and staffing proposals. It should be divided into two parts — one for equipment and the required mill levy to pay for it with a "sunset" provision so that the tax ends when the equipment is paid for, and a second part for continuing operations with the required mill levy.