Local fire chiefs want growth fees
EAGLE COUNTY – Local fire chiefs look across the valley and see houses that aren’t there. Then those chiefs look at their fire stations and manpower, and shudder.
To maintain, or improve, fire service to the areas where hundreds of houses may be built will take money, and lots of it. To get some of that money, the local fire districts based in Eagle and Gypsum – as well as Basalt’s fire district and the Western Eagle County Ambulance District – want money from the builders or first owners of those yet-to-be built homes.That money would come from one-time payments known as “impact fees.” The districts now collect those payments from the towns they operate in. But outside the town limits, developers pay nothing. That’s why the county’s fire and ambulance districts are asking the Eagle County Board of Commissioners to impose fees for new development. The commissioners will hold their first official hearing on the subject Oct. 18 in Eagle.The payments are needed for a couple of reasons, supporters say.First, the up-front payments bring in money between the time a home or commercial building is finished and the time property taxes from that building start rolling in. The payments also help fire and ambulance districts pay for new buildings and equipment. What they don’t do is pay salaries or other month-to-month bills.Payments from new construction paid about one-third of the cost of a major renovation at the fire station in Eagle. That renovation added a training room, living quarters and a small workout room to the old station.”We wouldn’t be sitting in this station today without those fees,” said Jon Asper, chief of the Greater Eagle Fire Protection District.But those fees have so far come only from new construction in the towns, which are only a small part of the downvalley districts’ territory.The Eagle-based district responds to emergencies in parts of Wolcott and north on Highway 131 toward Bond and McCoy. It also covers the Brush Creek Valley south of town, including Sylvan Lake State Park and the old mining town of Fulford. The Gypsum-based district runs almost the length of the Colorado River Road, and up Sweetwater Creek six miles into Garfield County. To the south, the district’s boundaries stretch up Gypsum Creek all the way to LEDE Reservoir, and to the top of Cottonwood Pass to the southwest.A lot of building is already approved for those areas, and the chiefs of both districts see payments from new construction as a way to help pay for the equipment and buildings that will be needed in the future.New stations, new trucks”Ideally, we should have a station in Dotsero now,” Gypsum Fire Chief Dave Vroman said.Dotsero is home to the Two Rivers Village housing development. When complete, there will be about 400 homes there. Two Rivers Village is a good example of why his district needs a check for every new building completed, Vroman said. “At build-out Two Rivers will pay about $55,000 in property taxes a year to us,” Vroman said. “How do I build a station, put a truck in it, and put someone there for that?”Besides the Dotsero station, Vroman said he’ll need buildings and equipment up the Colorado River Road when development hits there. The Brightwater subdivision south of town up Gypsum Creek will probably need a station, as will the area near the Eagle County Regional Airport to cover development in that area.That station may be shared with the Eagle-based district, which covers Gypsum’s Buckhorn Valley subdivision and a commercial development that’s also in the Gypsum town limits.Asper is also looking at multiple stations in the foreseeable, if not immediate, future. As the Brush Creek Valley builds up, there could be a station up there. Asper also sees a day when a station will be needed near Wolcott.The Avon-based Eagle River Fire District is also eyeing a station at Wolcott. That district, which includes the towns of Avon and Minturn and covers the valley from Dowd Canyon to Wolcott, then south to Red Cliff, also includes a lot of buildable property that isn’t in towns. But that district isn’t yet asking the county for up-front payments.”At some point we’ll need the help of impact fees,” Eagle River Chief Charles Moore said For now, though, the district has received payments from developers on a case-by-case basis. That’s because most of the out-of-town development in Moore’s district has been concentrated in large projects such as Cordillera and Red Sky Ranch. Another such project is in the works south of Minturn, with developer Bobby Ginn working on a large project on Battle Mountain that includes a private ski resort.
‘Part of doing business’Whether it’s set fees or negotiated payments, developers are used to paying in advance.”Everybody agrees development should pay its own way,” said Rick Pylman, a local land planner.Set payments, he said, can actually help a developer when it’s time to draft a business plan for a project.”It helps you understand the cost of business,” Pylman said. “When you have to negotiate whether you’re going to build a fire station, it makes a development kind of uncertain.”But various fees and payments can add up, and those costs are ultimately passed along to home buyers. “It’s probably felt more at the lower end of the market,” Pylman said. “A mix of housing types can spread that around, though.”That’s what’s happening at Eagle Ranch, a development of more than 1,000 homes in Eagle. The subdivision has homes ranging from small condos to large golf course homes. That mix has helped spread around the cost of payments for services, said Eagle Ranch General Manager Gary Martinez.As opposed to development outside town limits, which pay up-front for road improvements and either land or cash to the Eagle County School District, most in-town projects have a list of fees.In Eagle, that list includes payments for roads, fire protection and ambulance service, plus land for a new school.”A good development needs a terrific community,” Martinez said. “Parts of that community are education, roads and good fire service.”Developers understand that,” he added. “Services are part of what people want. It costs, but if it’s done right, it produces services and facilities that are important to people.”Staff Writer Scott N. Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 613, or email@example.com.Vail Daily, Vail Colorado