EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado - One year after voters told the Eagle River Fire Protection District no to a tax increase, the Eagle County electorate has apparently changed its mind.
Voters approved the district's mill levy increase Tuesday, according to unofficial results, bringing a huge sigh of relief for the district's staff and board members who had cautioned voters leading up to the election that a no vote would force the district to close two of its four stations.
Board member Jennifer Cartmell-Hays had been chewing her fingernails Tuesday evening in suspense, she said. Just after 10 p.m., Cartmell-Hays felt sure the district had locked in the win.
She read a prepared statement to the Vail Daily around 10:15 p.m.
"We are gratified and heartened by the support the voters in the Eagle River Fire Protection District have shown in approving the mill levy increase. On behalf of the board and our firefighters, we are sincerely appreciative and wish to thank the voters for their support," she said. "Approval of the mill levy will allow the district to immediately stop the intermittent closures of our fire stations that have been occurring, thus increasing safety and response for all of our residents. As we move forward we will also look at strengthening our wildland firefighting capabilities, which everyone knows is a crucial need in our mountain surroundings. Over the past year our belt-tightening has been a test for us as we've learned how to do more with less, but we are certainly grateful for the support we received on this ballot question from the community."
Fire District Chief Karl Bauer said the importance of the mill levy increase to the district can't be overstated.
"Certainly we're thrilled, but more than that we're very grateful," Bauer said. "We understand the community have given us their vote of confidence and they want us to continue to provide the high level of service that's commensurate with the risk the community faces. ... The vote to continue to fund the district ensures we'll be able to respond in a matter that the community needs."
Off-duty firefighters volunteered their time Tuesday to stand on street corners near polling places across the district. They held signs and told anyone who asked about the ballot measure to vote for it.
Brent Redden stood at the entrance to the Eagle-Vail Pavilion and tried to encourage support for 5A.
"If you vote for 5A, it keeps our fire stations open," he told voters on their way in to vote.
At the Avon municipal building, firefighters Chris Perkins, Casey Cooper and Austin Turner campaigned for 5A, too.
"We want to maintain the public safety," Perkins said. "We're a world class ski resort, people expect world class service. I think to provide that, keeping all five of the stations open and fully staffed would be the best option for the citizens."
The district provides service from Tennessee Pass to Bellyache and while there are five total fire stations, the Beaver Creek station is run as a separate entity on a contract basis, leaving four stations operating under the district's annual budget. That budget is expected to take another 20 percent, or $1 million, hit in 2014 because of another dip in property values.
When asked about the measure Tuesday, many voters said they didn't know much about it. Voters who voted against it said they considered their personal finances when considering the tax increase. Those who voted for the measure generally agreed that it was important for the community.
"I think the firefighters need more help just like anybody else does," said voter Juanita Trujillo. "I think they're (reach is) more powerful than the police."
Assistant Managing Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or firstname.lastname@example.org.