by James Courant -
In the midst of a nationwide economic downturn, the City of Evans will ask its voters this fall for a property tax increase. The proposed increase is needed to fund the new Evans Fire Protection District as a replacement for the current city fire department. The Evans Fire Department would be re-organized under the proposed district creating a new governmental entity overseen by an Evans area elected board of directors. The property tax increase of 5.5 mills equates to about $65 more on a house valued at $150,000 per year. Retail stores would pay an average $923 more per year while apartment complexes of 13 units or more would pay around $4,600 more per year.
According to the information provided at www.evansfiredistrict.org, the tax monies for the new district would be used to hire 9 part-time firefighters to augment current staffing ($168,500/yr), to replace aging fire trucks ($118,000/yr), to provide operational support and equipment for the firefighters ($108,839/yr). However, the largest percentage of money is earmarked for administrative costs ($183,607/yr).
The arguments that the city council and fire department are putting forth in favor of creating the district include future sustainability for the fire service, funding that is dedicated to fire/EMS instead of competing for general fund allocation, the fact that Evans has not asked for a tax increase in 20 years, the city has the second-lowest combined fire and municipality property tax in Weld county and the department currently has no money to replace its aging fire trucks.
The city would still have input and some measure of leverage over the fire district through an inter-governmental agreement and subsidizing a small percentage of funding for the first few years.
Evans Fire responded to 1232 calls for service in 2010 staffed with 15 paid firefighters supplemented by 36 volunteer firefighters. Of those 1232 calls, 34% were medical calls, 28% were to assist the EMS crews 4.5% were for fires and 2.5% were for vehicle accidents with injuries. The majority of the EMS calls were located within 2 miles of the Evans fire station.
In the case of multiple or major incidents Evans currently has automatic aide agreements with Johnstown and Milliken fire department s and limited aide agreements with Greeley and LaSalle fire departments. EMS response to Evans is provided by Weld County Paramedic Services.
Critics have suggested that this economic climate is not conducive to any tax increase. Some have suggested the possibility of utilizing more volunteers to supplement staff (perhaps expanding the recruitment of new EMTs looking to gain field experience needed to apply for paid firefighter jobs), forming a fire district with Johnstown and Milliken to pool personnel, purchasing power and equipment costs, not responding to low acuity medical calls or responding to medical calls in a vehicle other than the big pumper truck.
Council members and fire department administrators have stated they are not ruling out the possibility of combining some resources with other departments and/or responding to medical calls in a far less expensive, more efficient vehicle in the future.
Due to a shortage of tax monies, many departments across the country are working together and combining with nearby departments as a way to increase efficiencies and share manpower and capital equipment costs. Departments of all shapes (city, county and special districts) and sizes are merging to better serve their populations. One such merger in California involves merging three departments that service a 600,000 population area. Locally, Johnstown and Milliken fire departments are now sharing one paid fire chief instead of each department paying for a chief separately.
There are four ballot questions before Evans voters this fall for the proposed taxing district. One question seeks approval from voters to form the Evans Fire Protection District while another question asks for the 5.5 mill levy tax increase to fund that district. The third question asks the voters to “de-Bruce” the new district by removing all spending and revenue limits placed upon government by the TABOR laws. The final question asks the voters to authorize the inter-governmental agreement between the new district and the city allowing the district to identify with the city of Evans, allowing the city to provide initial funding to the district until such time as the district is financially viable on its own and allowing the district and the city to share resources as applicable, such as attorneys and insurance providers. If any of these four questions is not passed by the voters then the fire district will not be organized and the city and fire department will have to get more creative with other ways to fund the department.
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