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November 13, 2012
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Mill levy increase ensures life of fire district - for now

SNOWMASS VILLAGE - The measure to increase the mill levy for the Snowmass-Wildcat Fire Protection District passed on Election Day, ensuring the department won't have to cut staff or continue drawing from reserves next year.

However, voters were more divided on the issue than on past fire-related ballot items, with only 55.6 percent approval reported on Nov. 6.

"I'll be more pleased when the election is certified," said Chief Steve Sowles, referring to provisional ballots that still have to be counted. "If the percentage holds true obviously we've pulled this thing through. ... But those are concerning numbers."

The approval of 5C increases the levy, which is collected and spent by the district, by 3 mills over the next two years. The purpose of the measure is to address the damage caused by property devaluations, which dropped 27.5 percent in 2011 and are expected to drop another 25 percent next year, according to Sowles.

Sowles said the district cut 6 percent of its budget this year and has not filled some positions that have opened up. The district won't see the money from the mill levy increase until next year anyway, but he said the most immediate impacts are that it won't have to draw from reserves next year, no staff members will lose their jobs, and services will stay the same. It also might return to its normal hiring process.

Although he is pleased with the results, Sowles said it concerns him that 44 percent of district voters didn't support the measure.

"Those things scare me," he said. "What does that mean in terms of the future?"

Mayor Bill Boineau, who was a volunteer firefighter before the district went to a paid department and sits on the board of directors, said he understands how the economy could affect people's votes.

"I can understand how some people in the community didn't want to support that," he said. "(But) we in Snowmass are better off."

Sowles also thinks the economic climate might have contributed to the decrease in voter support, but he thinks the district's marketing might not have been enough. He said the district will review the election and try to identify what voter groups were less supportive. Some nonresidents who own property in the district were eligible to vote on this measure as well, and Sowles said it's harder for the district to contact those people.

According to Boineau, some residents think the district should go back to being a volunteer department like Aspen Fire.

"Understand that Aspen doesn't run the ambulance service," Boineau said. "That's the difference."

Chief Sowles said he would love to continue improving the district, but that that wasn't what this measure was meant to accomplish.

"This wasn't new cash," Sowles said. "This wasn't influx."

Maintaining current services includes keeping response times under five minutes and having enough resources to respond to more than one call at a time.

"We pride ourselves on our response times being less than five minutes 99 percent of the time," he said. "That will really go on seamlessly."

jbeathard@snowmasssun.com


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The Aspen Times Updated Nov 13, 2012 04:46PM Published Nov 13, 2012 04:46PM Copyright 2012 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.