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Fire District Proposal Detailed

This fall, the voters of the Estes Valley will be given the opportunity to establish a valley-wide Fire Protection District. The election will be conducted by the Larimer County Election Commission as a mail-in ballot only. There will be no polling places. Ballots will be mailed to arrive in registered voters’ mail around October 18th. Completed ballots can be delivered in person or by return mail with the ballots needing to be returned to the Larimer County election office in Fort Collins no later than 7:00 p.m. on Election Day, Tuesday, November 3rd. Ballots may also be delivered to the County office on Brodie Avenue in Estes Park, which will be open until 7 p.m. on Election Day.

The proposed Fire Protection District will include the entire Estes Valley—66 square miles surrounding and including the Town of Estes Park.

Since 1907, the residents and visitors of the Estes Valley have been well protected by the Estes Park Volunteer Fire Department but the role of fire departments has changed. Particularly since 9/11, firefighters have been called on for an ever-increasing list of first response demands including
haz-mat spills, auto accidents, medical emergencies, and as first responders to any terrorist alerts.

The entire Estes Valley is in the forest with its ever-present danger of wildfire. Population growth, climate changes, and pine beetles are putting the Estes Valley public safety at risk. With one unified Fire Protection District, when the inevitable forest fires happen, our well-trained and prepared Volunteer Fire Department will be ready to respond in a unified manner without regard to boundaries.
A task force was established in 2008 to develop a plan that is fair and equitable for all residents and visitors in the Estes Valley to provide a stable funding source for fire and rescue services.

This Fire Service Plan is different than any previous plans: the 2004 plan called for funding exclusively through property taxes—visitors to our community paid nothing; and, the 2006 plan called for two separate fire departments—one in town, and one outside the town limits, again funded exclusively through property taxes.

The current proposed plan calls for funding for the protection of property and lives through two primary revenue sources: a nominal property tax of 1.95 mills on all properties in the proposed Fire Protection District will fund about half of the Fire Protection District’s budget and the town will contribute 7% of its collected sales tax revenue to fund the other half. This is not an increase in the current sales tax rate, but it is a major continuing commitment from the Town. Because the lion’s share of sales tax revenue comes from non-residents, visitors will be paying a large share of the funding.

To the individual property owner, this 1.95 mill levy comes to about $15.51 per $100,000 of actual market home value, or about $4.60 per month for the average home in the Estes Valley. This is a very inexpensive way to protect property and life and to keep insurance rates in check.

Neighboring Fire Protection Districts property tax rates are much higher. Berthod residents pay 15.274 mills for their fire and rescue service; Johnstown, 9.478; Poudre Valley, 9.301; Allenspark, 7.507; Pinewood Springs, 6.336; and, Loveland Rural, 5.808. Compared to neighboring Fire Protection Districts this is a very small property tax levy.

The proposed Fire Service Plan calls for the elimination of all subscription fees and subsequent billings for those who did not subscribe to fire protection services, and there will be no more fundraising events, such as the Arts and Crafts Fair, to balance the fire department’s budget.

The Fire Protection District will be governed by an independent Board of Directors elected by the voters, as a separate legal entity from the Town Board. The Town will have no direct say in the governance of the proposed Fire Protection District.

The plan calls for keeping our great group of dedicated volunteer firefighters, the same three paid staff positions—Fire Chief, Trainer, and Administrative Assistant, with all of the facilities and equipment transferred at no charge from the Town to the Fire District.

One of the primary goals of establishing a valley-wide Fire Protection District is to provide the long-term funding stability for our fire and rescue services. The current funding package is inadequate to provide for the increasing demands of our fire and rescue services and is far too important to the residents and visitors of the Estes Valley to rely on donations and fundraising events to pay the bills.

The current funding is neither fair nor equitable for all of the citizens of the Estes Valley. The current funding, as a part of the Town’s budget is no longer assured, as it competes with all other Town departments and services. Funding for fire and rescue services has not grown with our population and public safety demands. The entire Estes Valley and its residents and visitors are all at risk. The Estes Valley is one community—political boundaries should not separate the population in areas as critical as fire and rescue services.

The mail ballot will include three questions for the Estes Valley voters: The formation of the Estes Valley Fire Protection District; authorization of the 1.95 mill levy; and, de-Brucing of the district to allow it to accept grants and gifts. The de-Brucing issue does not give the district the ability to raise the property tax levy without an approval vote from the voters in the future.

You can vote if you are a registered voter living in the proposed Fire Protection District, or if you are a property owner in the district registered to vote elsewhere in the State of Colorado. If you are a property owner whose legal residence is in Colorado outside the Estes Valley, the property title must be in your (or your spouse’s) name and it must match your voter registration, and you must request a ballot from Larimer County. If you have questions or concerns about your eligibility to vote in this important election, don hesitate to contact the Estes Valley Fire Services Initiative Campaign chair, Tom Anderson, at tanderson970@beyondbb.com.

A yes vote is needed on all three ballot issues. Voters will also be asked to elect five directors for Fire Protection District, with staggered terms of office.
The complete Service Plan and a lot of other information for the proposed Fire Protection District can be found on the Estes Valley Fire Services Initiative Campaign’s web site: www.EVFireServices.org.

In the coming weeks, the Fire Services Initiative Campaign will address any questions voters might have concerning the proposed Estes Valley Fire Protection District. Email any questions you may have to tanderson970@beyondbb.com. Similar questions will be grouped together by topic and will be answered in a regular column in this newspaper.

© 2014 Estes Park News, Inc

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