Eagle River Fire will ‘have to make cuts somewhere’ | VailDaily.com

Eagle River Fire will ‘have to make cuts somewhere’

Lauren Glendenning
Vail, CO Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – The Eagle River Fire Protection District might be disappointed with the result of Tuesday’s election, but the district’s leaders are going to get back to work, and they’re not going to cry about it.

That’s what district Board Chair Ed O’Brien said Wednesday after coming to the reality that voters didn’t want to increase taxes in order to support the district, even if it meant possible decreases in fire-protection services.

“It was not a shock by any means, but we were hopeful,” O’Brien said. “I’m not insensitive to the challenges that are faced by the people in our community and their concerns about taxes. We were well aware of that when we put it on the ballot.”

The proposal would have raised the district’s mill levy from 5.55 mills to no more than 7.5 mills, which would have raised about $1.8 million per year. The strategy was to ensure the district would continue to operate at 2011 budget levels until 2019.

The question was one of three local tax increases that failed Tuesday, proving that voter sentiment during uncertain economic times is for government agencies to tighten their belts, not raise taxes.

O’Brien said the district felt it was appropriate to put the question on the ballot but that it will live with the voters’ decision.

“We know what’s going on out there,” he said.

The district had said before Tuesday’s election that it would have to close as many as two of its six fire stations should the ballot measure fail, as well as reduce on-duty staff by as much as half.

O’Brien said Wednesday, however, that the district isn’t yet sure where the cuts will come from.

He said closing fire stations remains a possibility, but that it’s not inevitable.

“We can live on some reserves for a while and postpone that decision down the road a ways to try and find alternatives,” he said.

Vail Fire Department Chief Mark Miller knows all about budget cuts and offered some advice to the district’s acting chief Karl Bauer Wednesday morning.

“I told him they’ll survive and they’ll be stronger for this,” Miller said.

Miller said his department, along with every other town of Vail department, has been asked to cut its budget about four times in the last 2 1/2 years, although Miller’s situation was different because cuts were happening at the same time the department was building a new station in West Vail. He had to cut on one end while growing on another.

Miller said Eagle River will get through it, though.

“As experts, we would like to think we know what the community deserves and should get (in terms of service),” Miller said. “This type of situation causes you to sit back and say, ‘You know, we may not be able to give everything we want to give.'”

Miller said you have to make tough decisions such as deferring projects or purchases of new equipment, or eliminating some things all together.

Avon resident Anthony Beausang said via the Vail Daily’s Facebook page that the cuts mean voters will no longer be able to complain about longer response times for things like accidents on Interstate 70.

From 2000 to 2010, Eagle River Fire District replaced aging fire trucks with new and modern fire engines, fire hose, self-contained breathing apparatus and other equipment, according to the district’s 2010 annual report. The district’s 30-year-old ladder truck was replaced in 2008.

Those are the kinds of purchases that the district will now have to consider deferring or eliminating. Maybe the desire is to have four firefighters on an engine, but that might not be possible anymore, either, Miller said.

O’Brien said the district has about $3 million in reserves, which would be used up completely in less than two years if no cuts are made.

“We’ll obviously have to make cuts somewhere, but that doesn’t necessarily mean closures of the stations,” O’Brien said.

The small amount of reserve funds provide an immediate cushion, but the district can’t just use up that fund, either.

“That would be negligent,” O’Brien said. “We’ll have to balance a lot of options.”

Community Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or lglendenning@vaildaily.com.

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