A life-and-death decision | VailDaily.com

A life-and-death decision

Don Rogers

New development is not so simple as building houses and apartments, and then selling them. People will stay in those homes, and they will need basic services.It doesn’t get much more basic than being able to call your local fire department or ambulance for swift help in an emergency. There’s a cost, of course, as with all things in life. Talk to politicians, officials, planners and builders and you’ll hear nearly universal fealty to the concept that “development should pay its own way.” But the fact is that it seldom does, especially with residential developments.Sure, tax dollars help. But they don’t provide for building new stations and adding necessary equipment to serve new neighborhoods in a timely manner.Take the development in Dotsero. Two Rivers Village will have 400 homes when complete and generate $55,000 annually for the Gypsum fire department that serves them. It’s a long drive to a fire or accident from Gypsum, especially if it’s your home on fire or your family member in medical crisis. Every minute counts. Gypsum Fire Chief Dave Vroman says the area should have a station there now. It may be awhile at $55,000 a year. Development should pay its own way. Especially for the most basic, most expected services from government. Of course, one consequence is more expensive homes and perhaps less profit for developers. But the costs for all of us are higher by not insisting that new growth truly pay its own way. Failing to provide adequate and timely life and safety services strains the agencies assigned to serve the new neighborhoods. And it adds pressure to increase taxes on the rest of us to cover these expenses for our new neighbors. This is a pay-now-or-pay-more-later deal – possibly with people’s lives. Any savings from not making sure that builders account for emergency services up front is simply false. If the developer doesn’t pay, we all do.Basically there are two ways to for a developer to account for emergency services. Negotiate an up-front payment or have an established fee.Some governments go with “impact fees,” and others rely on negotiating with developers. The mid-valley Eagle River Fire Protection District has a station in exclusive Cordillera through this means. Avon has a fire and ambulance station planned in its deal for the Village at Avon that in time will double the town’s population, as well as size.Negotiated payments are fine. But that leaves the chance of Vroman’s challenge today with Dotsero. And he’s right. There should be a station out there today.Gypsum and Eagle have impact fees for fire service within their boundaries. This is the better way to go. Would-be builders can more reliably factor in this cost before seeking approval. The politicians won’t forget that this is an expense that must be factored in. And the emergency services agencies can be reasonably assured of having the resources needed to perform their crucial jobs.So why am I yakking about this today? Well, the Eagle County commissioners are scheduled to take up this very subject Tuesday afternoon. The fire chiefs have asked the county basically to eliminate the chance of more Dotseros by setting an impact fee for emergency services.I can’t think of a measure that makes more sense. The countywide smoking ban for restaurants, important as you think it may be, is silly nonsense by comparison. Making sure that firefighters and ambulance crews can appropriately respond to life-and-death emergencies is crucial.Indeed this is life and death. Our county commissioners ought to see it as such as they consider the chiefs’ sensible request.Development must pay its own way. And there’s only one clear means to make sure that truly happens. Managing Editor Don Rogers can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14600, or editor@vaildaily.comVail, Colorado

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