Steamboat City Council to consider forming citizen committee for potential fire tax question | SteamboatToday.com

Steamboat City Council to consider forming citizen committee for potential fire tax question

Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue firefighters Brian Shively, left, and Scott Hetrick inspect a fire truck at the Steamboat Springs Central Fire Station.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — City officials have started meeting with the Steamboat Springs Area Fire Protection District to lay the groundwork for a possible ballot initiative that would ask Steamboat voters to pay for their firefighting and EMS services with a new property tax.

In a recent memo to his fellow city council members, Councilman Scott Ford is reporting that there was an interest among all the parties at a late January fire district meeting to explore extending the existing fire protection district into the city of Steamboat.

The move would create a unified fire district with all district residents paying the same tax for emergency services.

Currently, residents in a donut-shaped district just beyond the city limits pay a property tax to help fund the equipment and firefighting personnel, which are owned by the city and based in Steamboat.

City residents help fund fire and EMS services through a sales tax, but they do not pay a property tax dedicated to those services like the residents of Silver Spur, Steamboat II and other county neighborhoods just beyond the city limits.

The talks about creating a unified fire district with a single, dedicated funding source that all property owners in the district would pay comes as the city's fire chief has raised concerns about future funding of emergency services.

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"We’re seeing an increase in calls and demand for services, and we don’t have any way for us to grow and meet those demands right now,” Fire Chief Mel Stewart said last month.

City officials have gone as far as to create a list of pros and cons regarding the formation of a fire district that includes city residents.

The list of pros includes having a funding source that is not as volatile as city sales tax, getting second homeowners to pay their fair share for the services and creating a stable funding source to support a new fire station.

The cons identified by city officials and the district include the district seeing unanticipated costs due to the transfer of assets, as well the potential for a more complicated process of the district putting a new fire station on property owned by the city.

There would also be challenges that proponents of a new fire district tax would have to overcome.

According to Ford's memo, those challenges include coming up with a reason why residents of Steamboat would be willing to accept a property tax to pay for a service they are already receiving.

Ford and Councilwoman Lisel Petis are serving as the council representatives during the discussions with the existing fire district.

As soon as Tuesday night, Ford and Petis will ask the entire council whether they would support forming a citizens committee to look into the potential ballot measure.

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