Fire district asks $3M question | AspenTimes.com

Fire district asks $3M question

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Aspen Fire Protection District officials posed the $3 million question to the City Council on Monday, but they didn’t get an answer.

The city has offered the district first dibs on a Main Street property that could become the future home of the Aspen Volunteer Fire Department, but a district steering committee has been stymied in its debate over whether to move its headquarters or not.

What the city will charge the district for the land is a critical, unanswered question that has hampered the committee’s ability to come up with a recommendation, according to Chuck Torinus, a member of the district’s board of directors.

The city purchased the Zupancis property at 540. E. Main St. last year for $3 million, using money borrowed from its housing fund. In doing so, council members agreed the fund must be repaid by August 2004.

The district, Torinus said, needs to know: Is it expected to pay the city that sum?

Council members couldn’t agree on an answer.

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Councilman Tim Semrau said he’d be willing to lease the new site to the fire district for $1 a year – the same deal the district has with the city for its existing Hopkins Avenue fire station. The city can recoup its $3 million with the sale of the Hopkins Avenue property, he suggested.

“If you want that land for a dollar a year for a new fire department, I’d be willing to commit to work toward that,” he said.

Council members Rachel Richards and Terry Paulson favored repayment by the district, which would have to seek authorization from voters to borrow the money.

It’s not fair for Aspen alone to subsidize a new station that provides fire protection for a larger area than just the city, especially given the number of other demands on the city’s limited financial resources, Richards reasoned.

“I agree, the housing fund must be paid back,” said Mayor Helen Klanderud, but she stopped short of insisting the entire sum come from the fire district, as did Councilman Torre.

Quizzed on whether they would prefer to see the fire station remain where it is or move to the Zupancis parcel, council members concurred they would back whatever site works best for the district. Several though, said they love having the fire station in the town’s core.

“My gut reaction right now is, I don’t want to see the fire department move. It’s part of the character of town,” Paulson said.

Council members directed city staffers to explore other options for repaying the housing fund next year and indicated they’d like to discuss what might go on the Hopkins Avenue site if the fire station moves – it has been mentioned as a new locale for the Aspen Art Museum. Other potential uses of the Zupancis site also need more discussion, members agreed.

[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com]

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