Avon joint fire and police station to go before voters in May | VailDaily.com

Avon joint fire and police station to go before voters in May

The Eagle River Fire Protection District's Edwards station was intended to be a temporary structure when it was originally built in the '80s.

AVON — A conversation over coffee a few years ago has turned into a pair of May ballot issues. If successful, the elections will fund a new public safety building in Avon, a new fire station in Edwards and a fire training facility in Minturn.

The idea sprung, in part, from a coffee conversation between Avon Police Chief Bob Ticer and Eagle River Fire Protection District Chief Karl Bauer. The two were talking about the state of their respective headquarters — cramped and outdated. That led to discussions with the chiefs' elected boards, and the idea began to crystallize.

The Avon Town Council and the district's elected board of directors continued to work on the plan, which is now ready for voter consideration in a pair of mail-ballot elections in May.

The district is required to seek voters' approval since it's asking for a property tax increase. Town officials would use a financing tool called "certificates of participation," which don't require voter approval. They're asking voters' opinion anyway, and Avon Mayor Jennie Fancher said the cost of the certificates of participation adds up to a debt payment of about $415,000 per year, which would be paid out of current town revenues.

What's the plan?

At issue is a proposal for a new building that would be shared by both departments, although the fire district would pay the lion's share of the cost — $12.5 million for the district, $6.2 million for the town. The building would be build along Buck Creek, near a medical building now under construction on the northwest side of the main Avon Interstate 70 interchange.

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If voters approve, work could start as soon as June of this year. Once complete, the police and fire departments will have more room for both people and equipment — more than double the current space both departments now occupy. The new facility would allow the fire department to park its ladder truck in Avon. Bauer said the district now has to park that truck at its station in Cordillera because there's no room at the Avon station. Even if there was room, the station in Avon sits atop an old water tank — the building was once home to the water district for the town. That means the floor won't hold the weight of the truck.

Bauer said the ladder truck is dispatched to every structure fire in the district. For fires in Avon, that's a 20-minute trip in good weather.

The district has a mutual-aid agreement with the Vail Fire Department, which means that Vail crews will respond to calls from Avon if they aren't occupied with calls of their own.

Jennifer Cartmell-Hays, chairwoman of the district's board of directors, said that agreement often puts the ladder truck from Vail on scene faster than the district can get its own truck there.

About a block away, Ticer's department of 20 people works in what used to be the town's maintenance shop. At the moment, two officers are working in converted closet space.

Cartmell-Hays said there's another problem with the current fire and police stations beyond age — location.

"There's a problem with us getting (trucks) out of the core area because of heavy pedestrian traffic," Cartmell-Hays said. "During events, we're essentially blocked in."

While the police serve only the town of Avon, the fire district is a much broader territory and includes the county from the top of Tennessee Pass to Minturn, then along the I-70 corridor from Dowd Junction to Wolcott. Beaver Creek isn't part of the district, but it pays for fire services.

More than Avon

The district currently has people and equipment in Minturn, Avon, Edwards and Cordillera. The Edwards station is the second-biggest part of the district's bond question

That facility was first built as a temporary structure in the early 1980s. That structure, just more than 3,000 square feet, would more than triple in size.

Cartmell-Hays said work on the Edwards facility wouldn't start until the building in Avon is finished. That way, trucks and crews from Edwards can be temporarily stationed in Avon.

The third part of the district's plan is a $2.5 million training facility at a yet-to-be-determined site in Minturn. There's an existing site in Dotsero, but Bauer said that's at least a 45-minute drive from Avon in good weather. A training site in the eastern part of the valley would benefit both police and fire departments, he said.

While fire district officials are making the case for the plan, they're well aware that there are no guarantees when asking voters for a tax increase.

Faced with falling property valuations — and a corresponding drop in revenues — the district in 2011 asked voters for a temporary mill levy increase to cover the shortfall. That question failed, with 55 percent of district voters saying no.

In 2012, after the district started a program of alternating station closures, voters approved a variation of the 2011 proposal. That year, 53 percent of the voters approved.

The district's information packet about the proposal acknowledges that some voters in the district already believe their property taxes are too high.

But, Cartmell-Hays said, as property values in the district continue to rebound, the cost of the 2012 tax increase is already starting to drop.

Voters will be asked about the future of the district in again May.

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, smiller@vaildaily.com or @scottnmiller.

By the numbers

$25 million: Amount sought by the Eagle River Fire Protection District.

$12 million: The district’s share of a proposed public safety facility in Avon.

$10.5 million: Estimated cost of a new fire station in Edwards.

$2.5 million: District’s share of a training facility in Minturn.

$47.31: Tax increase for a home with an assessed value of $500,000.

Source: Eagle River Fire Protection District