Saturday, June 6, 2020

Fire Protection District considers asking voters for mill levy increase

Timing is up in the air

By Alissa Johnson

The Crested Butte Fire Protection District is considering going to the voters and asking for a mill levy increase, though the timing of the request is not yet final. The possibility comes as the district looks at moving into more of a paid service in order to hire more staff, replace vehicles and equipment as needed, and maintain its level of service.

According to Paul Hird, chairman of the district’s board of directors, the district has been fortunate enough to have a committed volunteer base that steps up when call volumes increase. That said, he also explained that it is getting harder and harder to recruit volunteers.

“For the last several years, we, along with other departments around the country, have seen a decline in volunteerism, in both firefighting and emergency services. We are realizing more each year that people just do not have additional time in their schedules to add another activity to their already busy lifestyles,” Hird said.

As a result, the board of directors sees the need to move toward a paid service, not eliminating the volunteer base but adding more paid employees.

“We are proud to have maintained the goal of having an Advanced Life Support person on every call, and it is clear we need to take that next step in order to continue fulfilling that goal, providing the best possible care to our community and our guests,” Hird said.

That could include hiring paramedics, firefighters, paramedic-firefighters and/or EMT-Intermediates. As part of that plan, the district is looking at what it would take to not only hire more staff but also provide housing. According to Hird, the board had a local architect draw up plans for a triplex to be built in Crested Butte.

“When we decide to build this structure we are hoping we can attract some very qualified people to fill those positions and give them a housing option, making those employment opportunities more attractive,” Hird said.

The board also sees some long-term needs to replace vehicles and equipment, which also comes at a high cost. The board has had several meetings discussing the possibility of going to the voters for a mill levy increase this November, but that timing may change. Hird said that based on conversations with the town of Crested Butte, the potential annexation project north of the Gas Café could affect the fire protection district.

“It appears that it looks promising the subdivision will be approved by the county and town, and master planning is progressing. In that master plan they informed us they would like to develop a public safety complex that would house local law enforcement offices and the fire and EMS divisions—in essence, moving the current fire district operations to that new location,” Hird said.

As a result, the board of directors will consider how that potential development could affect future finances before making a final decision. They will hold a special meeting on August 23 at 3 p.m. to assess the situation and decide whether to put a question on the ballot this fall or wait a year when there may be more clarity on the annexation.

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