Eagle River Fire cuts three senior staff | VailDaily.com

Eagle River Fire cuts three senior staff

AVON, Colorado – A shrinking tax base means three fewer workers and no new fire house for a local fire district.

The Eagle River Fire Protection District this week cut three members of its senior management staff, with 46 years of combined experience.

Deputy Chief Carol Gill-Mulson was deputy chief of fire prevention and had been with the department 28 years.

Inspector Chuck House was the assistant fire marshal and had been with the department almost 10 years.

Deputy Chief John Willson was deputy chief of operations and had been with the department eight years.

They were all offered severance packages, but not other positions, said John Hall. He’s with the Denver-based public relations firm Peter Webb Public Relations, which represents the fire district.

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Chief Charlie Moore referred calls to Hall and his Denver public relations firm.

Hall said cutting the three positions means $360,000 less in salaries and benefits. Because the district will contract out some fire planning services, savings from the three job cuts could be around $250,000, Hall said.

“They have been great employees. This was strictly a financial decision,” Hall said during a Friday phone call from his Denver office.

Earlier this summer the fire district shelved plans for a new fire house near Avon’s I-70 exit. For now, they’ll stay in the middle of Avon, next to town hall.

Peter Webb bills clients like the Eagle River Fire Protection District by the hour. The media relations for this week’s announcement cost the district less than $2,000, Hall said.

The district includes six fire stations that serve Avon, Arrowhead, Bachelor Gulch, Beaver Creek, Cordillera, Eagle-Vail, Edwards, Minturn, Red Cliff and Wolcott.

The Eagle River Fire Protection District is funded by a combination of property taxes and development fees. Both are shrinking.

Property values and property taxes could fall by as much as 30 percent, according to early projections by the Eagle County Assessor’s office. They won’t know for certain until later this year. Tax-supported entities like the fire district need a vote of the people to raise taxes, under Colorado’s TABOR amendment.

Development fees roll in when construction begins on new building projects.

As for laying off the three now, instead of waiting until 2012 when the district’s tax revenues actually fall, Hall said they need to act now.

“The district has to prepare for what they anticipate will be a 25 percent decrease in revenue, and they need to immediately prepare for that,” Hall said from his Denver office.

In a written statement released this week, Moore said cutting the three was “hard” but “necessary.”

“We are preparing to meet the challenges of reduced revenue in 2012, and we need to make cuts now,” Moore said. “Our primary duty is to keep our firefighters on the fire trucks responding to emergencies, without reducing our capacity. These personnel changes allow us to do that.”

The district is prioritizing equipment purchasing, considering bringing its accounting in-house, amending training budgets to exclude travel, and freezing wages, Moore said.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.