Fire district merger talks proposed
The Vail Fire Department, whose T-shirts became wildly popular after one of its firefighters hit it big on a network reality show, may no longer exist next spring.
Vail’s firefighters, perhaps as early as next May, are likely to join the larger, Avon-based Eagle River Fire Protection District, which has jurisdiction over all of eastern Eagle County.
Following an executive session Monday, Vail Mayor Ludwig Kurz said he’s instructed town staff to initiate negotiations with the fire district to work out the details, which include a litany of financial considerations.
“We decided we would pursue the opportunities out there to consolidate with the Eagle River Fire District, potentially with Beaver Creek fire services as part of the mix,” Kurz says. “There’s still a lot of unanswered questions, so we’ve directed staff to pursue things only if they make sense for the Town of Vail.
“It’s important that we maintain and improve on the level of fire service we currently have,” Kurz says.
The merger, which will ultimately have to be approved by Vail voters, will likely delay construction of the long-promised West Vail fire station. Town Council members have ordered the drawing up of blueprints for the station, but many now believe the firehouse will be far cheaper to build if and when the town joins the Eagle River Fire District.
The town would have to transfer a portion of its property tax to the Eagle River Fire District and that agency would build the new station.
“It’s also going to be interesting to see how the West Vail fire station would be incorporated into such a deal,” Kurz said. “We’d be intrigued to see what sort of options and opportunities it would provide for Vail.”
Kurz said a major sticking point in any potential consolidation is the issue of personnel – he currently can’t answer questions as to how two fully-staffed fire protection organizations would end up blending their employees, and said he expects it to be significant issue in negotiations.
Kurz said Vail may consider a trial “contract for services” scenario with the Eagle River Fire District, similar to the way that Beaver Creek pays for its existing fire protection coverage.
“From a personal standpoint, I wouldn’t want to enter into a position that we couldn’t get out of, and through a contract for services, we’d find out pretty quickly what it really cost – and what are the service standards to be expected out of the deal,” Kurz says.
The Town Council was planning to put a property tax increase on the November ballot. If passed by voters, the money would have been used to build the new fire station. As an alternative, Town Council wanted to ask voters to send a portion of property taxes to the Eagle River Fire District to complete the merger.
It now appears there will be no questions related to the fire department on the November ballot.
“In light of those continuing discussions, we thought it might be wise to put that election on hold,” Kurz said.
Vail Fire Chief John Gulick said he and his staff are excited – and just a bit concerned – about the proposal to join forces with the Eagle River Fire District.
“Things have turned out a lot different than I anticipated – we’ve been informed of a potential for consolidation, and it’s going to be a very interesting time,” Gulick said. “There’s been so many rumors up and down the valley, and there’s definitely a lot of politics and concerns about what’s next.
“There are a lot of really positive benefits to consolidation, but we also have to wonder if we will realize any savings through a merger – and I just don’t have any specifics on that,” Gulick says.
Vail Town Councilwoman Diana Donovan said she too will be interested in seeing the numbers.
“From my perspective, it seems to be all plusses, but we’re not going to rush it … we don’t want a bad deal,” she said.