Basalt fire department hopes to build housing |

Basalt fire department hopes to build housing

BASALT ” Leave it to the experts to put out a fire before it becomes a problem.

Basalt fire department officials have decided they must build housing for employees before the high cost of living makes it too tough for them to recruit volunteers and staff.

The Basalt and Rural Fire Protection District’s board of directors voted Wednesday to build three two-bedroom apartments at the Basalt fire station along Two Rivers Roads. “Employee housing is the No. 1 priority of our board,” said Fire Chief Scott Thompson.

The district hopes to break ground next spring on the project, estimated to cost $1 million. An application for the housing must be submitted to the town government for review.

The firefighters’ gain will be the cops’ loss. The Basalt Police Department’s home is at the fire station, in space that it leases from the fire district. It will have to vacate the space to make way for the fire department’s housing.

“We always knew this was coming,” said Police Chief Keith Ikeda.

He said the police station is 1,680 square feet with 432 square feet of additional storage space. The cops have been tucked onto one side of the building since 2001. Parking bays for fire trucks dominate the rest of the building.

The town pays the utilities for the entire building and plows the snow in lieu of rent. The fire department built a station in El Jebel in 1999 and included its administrative offices in the new facility. It doesn’t currently have offices in the Basalt station.

The police department will form a citizens’ committee next month to seek short- and long-term solutions to its needs for a new station, Ikeda said. Temporary solutions include leasing office space or placing modular trailers on town-owned property.

Town Manager Bill Efting said the move created no ill will “whatsoever.” The fire district leased the space to the town for the police department with the understanding that it would need the area back someday. “They gave us good lead time,” Efting said.

Thompson said the fire department isn’t currently having problems recruiting volunteer firefighters or hiring paid staff. However, as affordable housing disappears and workers moves farther downvalley, department officials believe they volunteer support they depend on will wane. They want to act before a shortage develops.

The employee housing would be available to volunteers and paid employees of the district. The district will also receive two employee housing units in the Whole Foods Market building under construction at Willits Town Center. That offer to provide units for firefighter housing was made during the review process. In addition, the district may consider constructing two housing units at its Snowmass station, Thompson said.

The fire district has a dedicated funding source for housing. When the valuation of property in the district soared last year, the board didn’t lower the mill levy. As a result of keeping the tax rate the same, the district received a $400,000 windfall that the board dedicated for housing. The district will receive at least that amount again this year.

A cash flow issue might require the district to borrow money from another fund to build the employee housing, Thompson said, but that money will be repaid through the revenues raised by the higher valuation. Thompson said the fire district won’t require a construction loan to fund the employee housing.

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