Clamoring for a fire station
More than 100 people crowded into the council chambers, and after listening to two hours of passionate pleas and fiery accusations, at least three of the six council members present said they were swayed by the arguments made or felt the evidence of a long-forgotten promise made a new fire station that needed to be treated as a priority.
“I’m compelled by this agreement,” said Town Councilman Greg Moffet after several speakers produced a copy of a 1981 an Eagle County District Court order mandating the town build a fire station in West Vail before Dec. 31, 1985.
Michael Cacioppo, who served as Vail councilman in the late 1980s, said he never came up with enough votes to put an end to what he characterized a broken promise.
“When governments don’t keep their promises it is a poor reflection on all Vail councils,” he said, adding that the town is still obligated to build a third fire station at no extra cost to the taxpayer.
Signed and sealed
Poignantly enough, the document shows the signature of two town representatives, one of them Rod Slifer, whose is serving his second round on the council since his election in 1999.
Slifer defended his signature, saying his term was up one month before the court’s deadline.
“We had tried to buy the Hud Wirth property and we could not agree,” he said of a 3.6-acre lot just west of Safeway long identified as a prime location for a fire station in West Vail.
When he left the council, Slifer said, the town had initiated condemnation proceedings, but that effort was stopped by the subsequent council.
“I have been supportive of a West Vail fire station since then,” Slifer said.
The Hud Wirth property was purchased by the town 2002 for $ 2.3 million, though at the time of the purchase, several council members took great pains in assuring taxpayers the land was not specifically acquired for a third fire station.
“I would like everyone to know that we have no agreement or understanding that this piece of property was bought for the purpose of putting a fire station there,” said Vail Mayor Ludwig Kurz.
Kurz said the town would take the residents’ concerns seriously.
“We feel a big responsibility,” he said, defending his fellow council members from accusations they have neglected to assure residents’ safety.
Councilman Dick Cleveland, a former Vail police officer, said adding a $5 million fire station and an additional crew of four trained firefighters at $240,000 annually would be felt on the town’s cash-starved operational budget.
Vail’s $21 million operational budget for 2003 has already undergone nearly $1 million in cuts since 2002 and will be pared down by another $500,000 in 2003 and 2004 because of lagging sales tax collections.
Pay now … or later
Tom Steinberg, a longtime Vail resident and a former town councilman, said if a slow response results in loss of life or major structural damage, town leaders will have to defend themselves in court.
“Wait until the trial lawyers get a hold of this letter and the town will be held liable,” he said. “We are going to pay for this one way or the other. Let’s do it right and build a fire station with it.”
Though they were clearly in the minority, two critics, both former Vail mayors, said a third station isn’t needed – at least not now.
Though they were clearly in the minority, two critics said a third station isn’t needed – at least not now.
Bob Armour said the department’s reasons for not rushing to West Vail on the Interstate 70 are outdated. Turn-around routes have been constructed and accidents that could stop a fire engine in its tracks could happen on the North Frontage Road, as well. Most of all, Armour said, a third fire station in West Vail would cost taxpayers money – but not lead to savings on fire insurance.
And Kent Rose said allocating money for a fire station would not generate any additional sales-tax revenues.
“You better look at the entire packet on your plate,” he said.
Wednesday, Vail Fire Chief John Gulick said he was overwhelmed and surprised at the outpouring of public support.
“I knew some of our off-duty guys would be there,” he said. “But I had no idea how many people would show up in support of this,” Gulick said.
Geraldine Haldner can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 602, or at email@example.com.