Ron Wolfe: Paying for fire protection
Vail CO, Colorado
Fire protection and emergency services are part of the backbone of every community. To make sure our community is adequately protected, Avon has adopted a program of impact fees on behalf of the Eagle River Fire Protection District . This is the group that provides fire and emergency response services for Avon, Minturn, Red Cliff and the unincorporated areas of Beaver Creek, Bachelor Gulch Arrowhead and Edwards ” all as a multijurisdictional special district.
Impact fees are a device authorized and structured under Colorado state statutes with the intent to relieve taxpayers of the costs and negative impacts of development. Specifically, the intent is that development pay its own way.
Avon and the rest of the fire protection’s service area has grown since the district was formed and will continue to grow. More fire equipment and facilities will be needed to protect property and respond to emergencies because of the greater number of homes, buildings, traffic and people. Yes, traffic is a factor. The fire district responds to accidents and emergencies on the highways. Projecting into the future using development plans and land entitlements, it is clear that the district simply cannot meet the growing needs and maintain the level of protection we have and want.
Three options were available to the district and to us as “customers” of the essential services that they provide:
A) Adopt an impact fee structure and process so that development pays for capital infrastructure needs created from their profit-making projects;
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B) Have all taxpayers pay for these development driven incremental needs through a property tax increase and relieve the developers from any cost out of their profits, or;
C) Do nothing, allowing the district to deteriorate in capability and infrastructure, thereby putting our lives and property at risk.
Which option is better? The pros and cons clearly balance out in favor of option A. We are all burdened by current taxes and don’t need or want another tax. If development does not pay its own way, why should we approve it and have its impacts become a burden to the rest of the community? We shouldn’t.
Impact fees can only be charged and used for new incremental capital equipment and infrastructure for which the need is clearly attributable to development. They can not be used to improve the current infrastructure, to improve the level of service beyond what is currently available and they can not fund operations. They are very strictly set, collected and managed according to statutes so they are spent only to mitigate the impacts of growth and development. This is exactly why and how every new house and building pays a plant investment fee to the water district to bankroll a capital fund to build the next new water treatment plant.
The Eagle River Fire Protection District has a property-value-based mill levy or tax. That revenue stream pays for operations of both new and old property protection and is unchanged. We all continue to pay the same rate, and new development joins in with their taxes so that we all share the operating costs for property and life protection.
With the state of our forests being what they are, overwhelmed with fallen trees and now bark beetle-killed trees, the risk of fire is huge. None of us should even consider not providing adequate fire protection services. Of the three options, the Avon Town Council carefully considered and then supported the district’s conclusion that Impact fees were needed and we adopted an inter-governmental agreement to collect them. Eagle County has already done this for the unincorporated served areas.
Downvalley, both Eagle and Gypsum already have fire protection impact fees. Together with the district, we achieved the means to provide and maintain the outstanding level of protection that they must have.
Ron Wolfe is the mayor of Avon. E-mail comments about this column to email@example.com.