Vail Daily letter: ‘Yes’ on 4A
Gypsum Fire is not asking for more money with this mill levy; they are asking to maintain their current budget due to loss of assessed valuation of property taxes.
Who is Gypsum Fire? For the last 102 years they have had the same philosophy: “We are your neighbors willing to help you at any time with any type of emergency. Since 1911, that same small town attitude still exists. We need good, solid men and women willing to get up and go any time on any type of emergency to help their neighbors.”
The Gypsum Fire Protection District is a combination fire protection agency in Eagle County. Combination meaning they are a volunteer department that is supplemented by paid staff. Gypsum Fire Protection District employs four full-time officers, six part-time engineers, and 40 volunteer firefighters of various ranks. These firefighters staff the main station and operate unstaffed satellite stations in Dotsero and another in Sweetwater. The district covers 455 square miles of both private and public land in Western Eagle County. The perception is that volunteers are substandard firefighters that live on money from bake sales. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Their volunteers obtain the same Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control certifications as other fire department. They perform the rigorous medical training and are certified like all other EMTs by the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians. They also obtain the National Interagency Incident Qualification Card or “red card” required for wildland firefighting. Since these firefighters hold the same exact certifications as any other state career department, what makes them different? If Gypsum Fire operated as a fully paid department, it would cost us the taxpayers approximately $2.8 million annually. Instead the community obtains the same services now for approximately $1 million. The difference is that the volunteer comes to serve us not for a paycheck but to realize childhood dreams of being a firefighter.
How did Gypsum Fire get where they are today? As a Title 32 District they are limited in how they can obtain revenue. They can charge for certain services but, the nuts and bolts of this complicated mill levy process limits them to property taxes for the bulk of their finances. As a taxpayer within Gypsum Fire Protection District boundaries, we will not be charged additionally for any service to us or our visiting loved ones. Nobody likes taxes; we all feel the pinch of the economic downturn. Gypsum Fire is not asking for millions of dollars, just approximately $5 each month for the cost of a home with an assessed valuation of $200,000.
How does their budget get spent? Gypsum Fire has bills as well; radios need to work, and to save everyone money they are still running 23-year-old trucks which need maintenance. The gear needs to be repaired by NFPA certified vendors that specifically repair firefighter gear. The trucks need fueled, and their buildings need heat and lights. For 50 total members, the training budget is $3,000, the uniform budget is $2,000, and the personal protective gear repair budget is $2,500. They are living on a skeletal budget and have been for several years. These line items should be double or triple that amount to stay safe. Gypsum Fire has lost 55 percent of their revenue over the last five years.
Where does the tax money go? Like any other organization payroll is the biggest budget item. Whether a fire department runs one call or 1 million each year, every fire department from big cities like New York, Chicago, Denver, and any other smaller fire department have to find a solution for staffing the same coverage — 365 days a year. The 10.33 mills would maintain the current minimum daily staff of two paid firefighters and two to four volunteers 365 days a year.
After the radios are turned on, and the trucks are fueled and repaired, with four well trained firefighters in the seats they still have to pay one more year on the main truck, Rescue 14. Rescue 14 replaced three trucks that required extensive maintenance. The other big payment is the building addition that allowed them the ability to house volunteers which currently travel as far away as Fort Collins to Glenwood. As the housing market exploded, so did the difficulty of getting volunteers to live close to the station. After 2000, Gypsum Fire became a group of extended “neighbors helping neighbors.” Their folks no longer came from the confines of Gypsum town limits but as far away as Denver. The district had no choice but to build an addition in 2009 in order to keep the service you expected. Even then they watched the budget and cut costs to build a dormitory for less than $185 a square foot, all while using local contractors and vendors.
Gypsum Fire saves their pennies by not going to any training that has a requirement of a travel or hotel component. They drive a pickup with two firefighters to a medical to save on wear and tear and fuel on a large engine. They train with other departments to save cost on instructors and class materials. These and many other policy changes allow them to save thousands of dollars without compromising safety. But even by saving thousands, this does not make up the $250,000 loss of revenue.
Please vote “yes” on 4A on your mail in ballot by Nov. 5 at 7 p.m.
Daniel Valdez Jr.