Revenue drop hits ﬁre districts differently
EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – The county’s three fire districts are all struggling with a drop in revenue next year. Only one is asking for a tax increase.
The Eagle River Fire Protection District has its headquarters in Avon but covers a district that runs from the top of Tennessee Pass to Wolcott. In territory, it’s the smallest of the three. But it’s by far the most populous and covers neighborhoods from the Eagle River Village mobile home park in Edwards to the mansions of Mountain Star and the few homes around and beyond Camp Hale.
All three of the valley’s fire districts subsist almost entirely on property tax collections – Vail’s fire department is an agency of the town, so it’s funded differently. Given the steep drop in the county’s property values over the past two years, that means all three districts are facing budget cuts.
For Eagle River District Chief Charles Moore, the math is daunting: District officials say the district’s tax collections will drop by about $1.5 million in 2012. That’s a big bite from a budget that approaches $7 million for this year.
Moore said service will be affected if taxpayers don’t approve a temporary tax increase proposed by the district. Firefighters will be laid off, he said, and there’s a real possibility that the district won’t be able keep running the five full-time stations it now operates.
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Moore said that contingency plans are centered on keeping most of the department’s resources where most of its calls come from – between Eagle-Vail and Edwards. But the department may have to close stations on a “rotating” basis. One station might be open a few days per week, while another is shut down for a few days.
Downvalley, Greater Eagle Fire Protection District Chief Jon Asper said his district will have to cut spending next year. The district’s proposed 2012 budget cuts about $300,000 from spending this year. It’s not nearly the hit being taken by Avon, either in dollars or as a percent of the total, but things will be tight.
Despite the drop in revenue, Asper said he plans to keep staffing where it is now, adding that the district has no plans to ask voters for more money any time soon.
Gypsum Fire Department Chief Dave Vroman said his department is also looking at a 2012 budget about $300,000 less than this year. And, like Eagle, Vroman said his district has no plans to cut staff or ask voters for more money – at least in the near term.
But county officials have started to worry that the big drop in property values that will show up on 2012 taxes may be followed by another in 2014.
“If we see another 15 percent drop, we’ll need to find out how we’ll handle that,” Vroman said.
While Gypsum’s fire district has about 8,000 people living in it, it covers by far the biggest land area – it’s bigger than the other two districts combined, covering property from near the Eagle County Regional Airport, up Gypsum Creek and from Dotsero up Colorado River Road.
And, with just 12 full-time employees, the Gypsum district has to count on a group of between 35 and 40 trained volunteers.
“We’re struggling,” Vroman said. “But we’re not going to ask for anything. We support Eagle River, though – I don’t want to see anyone lay off people.”
Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or firstname.lastname@example.org.