By John Colson
Sopris Sun Correspondent
The elected leaders of the Carbondale & Rural Fire Protection District on Feb. 5 decided unanimously to split a contract for a new district master plan between two companies, one of which is out of Florida and the other of which is based in Carbondale.
According to a statement released by the district, the contract is being divided between Mark Chain Consulting, based in Carbondale and headed by a former member of the fire board, and Almont Associates of Port Orange, Florida, a firm that originated in the small town of Almont, Colorado, near Gunnison.
The board had budgeted $90,000 for the master plan contract, and the statement from the district noted “the combined proposal figure is $86,985, within the district’s budgeted amount.”
Chain, who was on the fire board until he was defeated in the last board election and initially submitted a bid of $98,500 for the entire master plan job, is to be paid roughly $53,000 for his part of the plan process.
Chain’s portion of the planning process is to be largely a matter of “leading the public involvement process, which entails community surveys, community outreach, and website and communication services, along with the financial feasibility process portion of the Master Plan,” according to the district’s statement.
Almont, which initially submitted a bid of $68,225 for the entire contract, is now to be paid approximately $33,900 for work that covers “an analysis of the fire district’s current operations, including comparisons with the Commission on Fire Accreditation International standards and National Fire Protection Assoc. codes and standards” as well as “recommendations on future services and the organizational structure of the district,” according to the district’s statement.
Some observers of the selection process have questioned whether it is appropriate for Chain to get the lion’s share of the contract because of his past close association with the fire board.
Fire board vice president Mike Kennedy, in a letter issued on Feb. 6, maintained that during the process of selecting a firm for the master planning process, “it began to become apparent that the consulting firms with the most fire district accreditation experience … were not necessarily the best firms to complete the public outreach portion of our process in the manner that the CRFPD board envisioned.”
Kennedy’s letter stated that Chain’s firm and its “co-consultant,” Lamont Planning Services, also of Carbondale, “together bring a total of 60 years of experience in local government and planning services to this project,” and are more directly responsive to the fire district’s public-outreach needs.
Kennedy’s letter did not directly address the issue of a possible conflict of interest in Chain’s selection.
But Ninth Judicial District Attorney Sherry Caloia, contacted about the potential conflict, concluded that no legal conflict exists.
For a true conflict to exist, Caloia wrote in an e-mail to The Sopris Sun, “There has to be some sort of transaction that is unfair. Such as the board contracting with Mark while he is on the board. Just being a prior board member does not create a conflict.”
The district expects to have final contracts, negotiated with Chain and Almont, to be completed and in place by the end of the month, according to the statement from the district.
The master plan is an outgrowth of a 2013 tax hike election, in which voters rejected the district’s request for additional tax revenues to overcome losses of revenues due to the effects of the recent national recession.
District officials have warned taxpayers that the district is facing serious fiscal problems and must find ways to boost its revenues or be faced with cutting the quantity and quality of services provided to district residents.
The fire fighters and equipment of the district serve approximately 15,000 residents in a 320-square-mile area that includes the towns of Carbondale in Garfield County, Redstone in Pitkin County and Marble in Gunnison County.
Founded in 1953, the department has 19 career personnel and 68 volunteer personnel, according to information on its website, www.carbondalefire.org.