Consultants: Form new fire ‘authority’ from Glenwood to Rifle | AspenTimes.com

Consultants: Form new fire ‘authority’ from Glenwood to Rifle

John Colson
Post Independent
Aspen, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – Consultants have recommended the formation of a new fire protection authority to encompass four fire departments currently serving the communities between Glenwood Springs and Rifle.

The four fire protection districts – Glenwood Springs City, Glenwood Springs Rural, Burning Mountains and Rifle – would remain distinct and autonomous entities, under the recommendation from Emergency Services Consulting International (ESCI), based in Oregon.

The consultants recommended that the districts forge an intergovernmental agreement to seek ways to save money, reduce staffing needs and combine operational and administrative functions, said Martin Goughnour, ESCI’s western region vice president.

The concept was unveiled at a special meeting of the consultants and representatives of the four districts, held on Wednesday night at the Glenwood Suites motel in West Glenwood.

“Keeping the status quo … has merit,” said Goughnour, praising all four of the districts for maintaining “excellent” response times and for arranging the placement of fire stations so that every home or business in the four districts is within five miles of a firehouse.

While the status quo yields short-term success for the districts operating separately, creation of an authority should lead to greater long-term benefits for the districts and their taxpayers.

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For instance, Goughnour said, the report shows that by combining some administrative functions, the districts could eliminate some positions and save about $280,000 in salaries, plus the cost of benefits.

Organizationally, he said, the authority as a whole could draw on the existing revenue streams of the member districts: property taxes for the Rifle, Burning Mountains and Glenwood Springs rural districts and sales taxes for the Glenwood Springs municipal department.

With that broad-based financial support, Goughnour said, the authority would be less drastically affected by ups and downs in the local economy.

Glenwood Springs acting fire chief Gary Tillotson asked Goughnour for a suggested timetable for the district boards to follow, if they agree to form an authority.

Goughnour urged the districts to adopt the recommendations by late November and shoot for implementation by the middle of 2012, so as not to lose momentum.

Stephen Trunck, an associate with ESCI, said one benefit of moving quickly would be avoidance of “the turf and the power [conflicts] that come to the fore pretty quick.” He has seen that happen in other parts of the country where district consolidation has taken place.

Another side of that coin, said Goughnour, is that the local fire districts can reach out to agencies that already have been through this kind of consolidation, and learn from their experiences.

Rifle Fire Chief Mike Morgan said he was not surprised by the consultants’ recommendations, noting that the districts have been working along similar lines for more than a year.

“It’s new for Garfield County,” Morgan said, “but it’s not new as a concept.”

He said the district chiefs and their boards will digest the information from the report, and come up with a decision about the recommendations at some point soon.

But that may not happen by November, he said.

“I think it’s going to take some time.”

jcolson@postindependent.com