Calls, dwindling funds for Carbondale Fire prompt tax question | AspenTimes.com

Calls, dwindling funds for Carbondale Fire prompt tax question

Matthew Bennett
Glenwood Springs Post Independent

The Carbondale and Rural Fire Protection District will ask voters this November to approve mill levy and bond questions in an effort to increase staffing, refurbish existing gear and purchase new equipment when necessary.

Fire district officials say the additional tax support is essential to protecting the extensive fire district, and subsequently the expensive operations it requires.

"The mill levy overrides that we have done have been short-term, two- or three-year sunsets," Carbondale Fire Chief Rob Goodwin said.

The last one, passed in 2017 and intended for operations, has a three-year sunset, so it would expire in 2020. The new proposals, which will appear on the Nov. 6 ballot, calls for a mill levy increase of 2.81 mills, taking the new overall levy to roughly 10.4 mills.

A second bond issue question seeks an additional 0.68 mills for the district bond fund, or $249,746 annually, to support a $7.5 million bond issue for capital purposes.

Like many rural fire districts, the CRFPD operates as a special district, rather than being part of the local town government.

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"In Glenwood, the fire (department) is part of the municipal government, 100 percent, where in Carbondale it is 100 percent separate," Carbondale Mayor Dan Richardson explained of the CRFPD. "It's a special district that has its own board of directors and, other than just cooperation on events, there is no connection between the town and the fire district."

Glenwood Springs Fire and the associated rural fire district also will seek the extension and combination of two existing property taxes that are set to expire in the near future. That, too, will be in the Nov. 6 ballot for Glenwood-area voters to decide.

The Carbondale fire district not only protects the town and a surrounding area that stretches from Missouri Heights on the north to Marble on the south, but also assists other municipalities such as it did during the Lake Christine Fire near Basalt.

"We cover a big area with a small department," Goodwin explained. "Our fire district is over 300 square miles, from Carbondale, CMC Spring Valley, Missouri Heights to all the way up over the top of McClure Pass including Redstone and Marble. It takes 45 minutes to drive from one end of our district to the other."

One specific area the CRFPD states the new mill levy would help adequately fund includes an increase in staff. The mill levy being proposed, if approved, would eventually lead to a minimum of six responders per 24-hour shift.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, the recognized national staffing standard required before engaging in one of the most dangerous circumstances — structure fire — calls for two firefighters inside, two outside firefighters ready to go in, one pump operator and one incident commander.

Currently, the Carbondale district has funds for three to four on-duty 24-hour responders per shift.

Another area the mill levy would specifically address pertains to ambulance calls. Currently, the CRFPD can staff three or four on duty, 24-hour responders. However, with no hospital in the district, patients who need transportation to Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs can cause significant out-of-service times, particularly if a call came in from Redstone or Marble.

"It just takes time, and we have concurrent calls. It's about being able to staff calls adequately," Goodwin said.

According to the CRFPD, in 2017, concurrent calls occurred 81 times.

While the district does utilize volunteers in addition to regular paid staff, the training and equipment alone for a single volunteer carries with it a bill of $4,000, Goodwin said.

Financially speaking, Ballot Issue 7B, if approved, would fund $571,081 for personnel; $29,523 for training; $35,000 for volunteer recruitment and retention; $58,857 for equipment; and $250,000 for continuing capital, according to information being distributed by the fire district.

The separate Ballot Issue 7C covers the proposed bond issue.

"Anybody off the street can appreciate what a great job they've done with all the fires we've had, most recently being the Lake Christine Fire," Mayor Richardson said.

"I hear a little bit more background of what really went down, and I'm even more proud of our fire department because they made some decisions that played some key roles in how to address some specific aspects of that fire that really made a huge difference."

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