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Public sounds off on fire district issues

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Second forum slated for Feb. 18

By Lynn Burton

Sopris Sun Staff Writer

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Ray Sauvey called the Station 81 ladder truck “a parade float.”

Mike Waski said “(higher) taxes … straight out” doomed last November’s fire district mill levy ballot question.

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Jason Sewell said the “GQ” public doesn’t understand the services the Carbondale & Rural Fire Protection District provides, then said they see fire trucks at the stations getting washed “every other day,” which they see as “big waste of resources.”

And so it went on Feb. 4, as the grassroots group Who Ya Gonna Call met to discuss what went wrong with last November’s mill levy ballot question, plus “trouble shoot” for another mill levy question in November, stir interest in May’s district board elections, and generally try to figure out where the district should go next.

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“ … What does the community want for essential emergency services … on a budget it can afford?” group organizer Jeff Wadley said as he kicked off the forum, held at the Third Street Center.

About 20 people attended the meeting, including at least two of the district’s five board members, district employees, volunteers and the public.

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Last November, fire district residents shot down by a 2-1 margin a proposed mill levy hike brought on by a 40 percent reduction in property values. After the defeat, the district board dipped heavily into its reserves and cut the 2014 budget by $700,000 without laying off any employees. Last week, fire chief Ron Leach told The Sopris Sun the fire department will be “devastated” if a mill levy increase (which would result in higher property taxes) is not approved next November.

To help identify issues and advise the board and staff, the district is forming an Advisory Task Force (see sidebar for details).

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Also, three board seats are up for re-election in May: Gene Schilling, Michael Kennedy and Mark Chain.

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The forum

At the Feb. 4 forum, questions and comments ranged from wondering whether the district is overstaffed to whether the ambulances should run on top-of-the-line tires. Early in the meeting, Wadley pointed out the district’s 2003 master plan called for paramedic service “24/7,” which has been achieved, and that voters approved a related bond issue “overwhelmingly” in the same year.

“It’s been a long process but we are there (with the paramedics and other master plan goals),” Wadley said.

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Later in the meeting an audience member questioned whether the district can afford ‘round the clock paramedic service or whether that level of service should be provided only during daytime or high-call hours. Paramedics are paid professionals with more training than volunteer EMTs.

One audience member said the district should ask whether it is over-staffed. “If you are not willing to ask … (that) question, I’m not willing to give you more money,” he said.

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The district employs about 22 staffers, including a fire chief and three deputy chiefs. “If administration is the biggest part (of the budget)… that’s what you can put a laser on,” said Crystal Valley resident Bill McKee.

The district’s ISO rating, a complicated and time-consuming formula that some insurance companies use to set individual fire insurance premiums, was also a prime topic. Some individuals associated with the district have said it bought a 100-foot ladder truck in 2013, thinking it would help lead to a better ISO rating, which in turn would lead to lower individual fire insurance premiums.

District staffer Frank Nadell told the group the ISO process is a “moving target” these days and maintaining a good ISO is becoming “harder and harder.”

Nobody at the meeting said or even implied that the district is not providing high quality emergency services.

The next Who Ya Gonna Call meeting will take place at the Third Street Center from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 18.

The Who Ya Gonna Call group is not officially associated with the fire district, and is not a part of the district’s Advisory Task Force.

Notable fire district dates

Sopris Sun Staff Report

The Carbondale & Rural Fire District board election is in May; a board-appointed task force is being formed; a grassroots advisory group has met; and a mill levy ballot question is expected to go to voters in November. So, several notable dates are even now being scribbled onto calendars and programmed into cell phones and computers from Marble to Missouri Heights. Those dates include:

Feb. 18 – The grassroots group Who Ya Gonna Call meets at the Third Street Center from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.; it’s organized by Jeff Wadley.

Feb. 21 – Deadline to apply for the fire district’s official Advisory Task Force.

Feb. 28 – Deadline to turn in nomination petitions for the fire board election in May.

March 3 – Deadline to turn in an affidavit to run as a write-in candidate.

March 17 – First Advisory Task Force meeting; it will meet monthly through July.

April 29 – Deadline to have a mail-in ballot mailed to you.

May 2 – Deadline to apply for a mail-in ballot in person.

May 6 – Fire board election (it was unknown at press time whether the election will be mail-in or polling place; the fire board was scheduled to discuss the issue on Feb. 12).