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Basalt fire department invests in its future

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BASALT – The Basalt Fire District invested its property tax windfall from the last three years into a project officials believe cash-strapped constituents will support.

The district is finishing construction on four employee housing residences that are connected to its station in Basalt. The units will be available April 1 for two volunteers and two paid staff with the Basalt Fire Department. All four are firefighters and three have various levels of training in medical response.

Fire Chief Scott Thompson said the department needed to take action to ensure firefighters will remain available to answer the call at the Basalt station. There are only two volunteers that own their residences in old town Basalt, he said. “We have a few volunteers that rent,” he said.

The new housing is a longtime guarantee that there will be personnel available at Basalt.

“It’s a great investment in the community,” said John Young, a member of the fire district’s board of directors.

The district’s main station was built last decade in El Jebel. There is dorm-style housing for three volunteers at that station as well as a caretaker unit in the district’s Old Snowmass station.

The two two-bedroom units and two one-bedroom units in Basalt were displayed in an open house Friday. Deputy Fire Chief Jerry Peetz was the department’s liaison with Reno Smith Architects and general contractor R.A. Nelson. They selected amenities that had many observers raving Friday. There are solid-core wood doors, recessed lighting with compact fluorescent bulbs, full-size and energy-efficient washers and dryers, and metal decks that won’t require as much maintenance.

The district decided not to seek LEED-certification for the project but it invested in numerous energy-efficiency qualities, Thompson said. A solar thermal system was installed that will supply hot water and heat for the four residences plus the fire station. Recycled materials were used for the foundation insulation. Low-maintenance concrete board was used on the exterior.

Young said the total cost was $1.6 million, which included street improvements and upgrades to the station. He estimated the cost for the housing alone was $1.2 million. The project came in under budget and ahead of schedule.

No special bond issue or property tax was required for the project. “We saved money and paid cash for the deal,” Young said.

In 2007, as property values soared, the district’s mill levy raised a windfall in revenues. The district’s board of directors voted to keep that money and earmark it for housing rather than decline to collect it, Young said. It reaped a similar windfall in 2008. In 2009, the district lowered its mill levy so it didn’t take the entire windfall available.

Young said the district’s board of directors felt they were spending funds wisely with an investment that ensures the district has firefighters and medical response personnel living in Basalt.

The rent is $500 per month for the one-bedroom apartments and $800 for the two-bedrooms, including utilities. Residents can have dogs for an extra $100 per month. There were five applicants for the four apartments, so a lottery was held. Rules for the lottery were modeled after the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority’s procedures.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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