West Routt Fire seeks more money | SteamboatToday.com

West Routt Fire seeks more money

District considers asking voters for mill levy increase to fund improvements, staffing

West Routt Fire Protection District Chief Bryan Rickman and members of his board are considering asking voters whether they would support a tax increase to shore up the department.

— Officials in West Routt County say the cost of fire protection is going to rise, and it's up to residents to decide whether they want to pay more to the fire department or insurance companies.

To address staffing and equipment needs, the West Routt Fire Protection District is considering asking voters in November to increase the tax that generates money for the district that encompasses 200 miles, including the town of Hayden, the Hayden Station power plant and Yampa Valley Regional Airport.

"The alternative plan is I hope everyone can afford their insurance rates going up," district Board President Ross Fralick said.

Officials said they think residents will vote for the increase if they do a good job of educating the public about it. To help do this, they held a meeting Thursday night that was not well attended. The board must decide next month whether to put the mill levy increase question on the November ballot.

"Everyone's got a fire department," Fralick said. "It's pretty cool to say we're the best around. We have bragging rights because we have the numbers to prove it."

He was referring to the district's rating used to determine insurance rates. That number, however, could change if the department does not receive funding. Not having a ladder truck for buildings higher than 35 feet likely will result in a diminished rating, Fire Chief Bryan Rickman said. Current staffing levels also could lead to a change from the current rating of four. Other districts in the area have a lower protection level of five, Rickman said.

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"As you go up a protection class, your (insurance) rates go up about 10 percent," Rickman said, after consulting with Mountain West Insurance & Financial Services in Craig.

The district is proposing to ask taxpayers to give the fire department that money instead.

"We face some real challenges coming up," Fralick said.

Fralick said the district has not asked for a tax increase in 31 years, and the rate has been low compared with other area fire districts. West Routt wants to essentially double the tax to make it comparable to other fire districts.

The owner of a home worth $200,000 in the district typically pays about $44, compared with the $158 paid in 2010 by those living in the Oak Creek Fire Protection District, which has the highest rate in the county, Routt County Assessor Gary Peterson said.

With the proposed tax increase, residents in the West Routt District with a house having $200,000 of assessed value would pay about $100 each year.

The district typically collects about $414,000 in revenue a year, and that number could drop in future years because of lower property values. With the proposed tax increase, the district would approximately double its revenues to about $1 million annually.

The district is developing a budget through 2022 to outline how the money would be spent.

Rickman said the first priority would be adding on to the station because a ladder truck won't fit. Next, the district would want to buy the $1 million ladder truck.

"We have the best insurance rates in the valley, but to maintain that, we've got to have a ladder truck," Rickman said.

The rescue truck, which is the first truck out on most calls, is more than 30 years old and needs to be replaced, Rickman said. At the same time, the district would upgrade its equipment and increase its staff, which currently consists of two full-time firefighters, five part-time staff members and 15 volunteers who are paid $40 per call. Rickman said that the economy has been a major factor in a drop in volunteer numbers and that it is putting a strain on the department. In 2005, the district had 40.

The few community members who attended Thursday's meeting voiced their support for a higher tax, saying they did not want to put in jeopardy property or the lives of emergency responders. District leaders said they hope a small group of community members will come forward to promote a tax increase if they decide to put it on the ballot. Residents said that educating the public about the tax would be the biggest challenge but that it is an important undertaking.

"We've been big supporters of the district because more than once they've saved our bacon, literally," said Bill Hayden, who owns the Hayden Mercantile grocery store.

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

Mill levies

A mill is a tenth of a cent, or $1 of tax per every $1,000 of assessed property value.

2010 numbers

Mill levies and the resulting annual revenues for local fire protection districts:

District Mill levies Annual revenues

North Routt Fire Protection District 7.12 $365,295

Oak Creek Fire Protection District 9.938 $747,242

Steamboat Springs Rural Fire Protection District 6.180 $1,458,638

West Routt Fire Protection District 2.772 $414,711

Yampa Fire Protection District 3.471 $95,523

What the owner of a residential property valued at $200,000 pays to fire districts annually:

North Routt Fire Protection District: $113.35

Oak Creek Fire Protection District: $158.21

Steamboat Springs Rural Fire Protection District: $98.39

*West Routt Fire Protection District: $44.13

Yampa Fire Protection District: $55.26

*Would increase to $99.85 with proposed mill levy increase

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