By John Colson
Sopris Sun Staff Writer
The ongoing task of writing a 10-year master plan for the Carbondale & Rural Fire Protection District is being rushed to the point where citizen reviewers do not have adequate time to digest all the information coming from a team of consultants, the district’s board of directors was told at a meeting on Tuesday night.
“We feel like we’re being rushed too far, too fast,” said fire board member Carl Smith, who sits on the Master Plan Steering Committee that is working with the fire board to review and mold a draft master plan.
“I think the reality is, we’re all looking at some kind of potential mill levy adjustment,” Smith added, referring to the district’s ongoing financial difficulties since the recent recession drastically cut property tax revenues, which are the district’s main source of income.
“I would support slowing down … taking a little more time,” Smith said of the planning process. “I think slowing down in the long run will make things a whole lot better” and be more likely to win support among the district’s constituents.
But board member Mike Kennedy commented that the board knew it was a tight schedule when it started the process, and that adjustments can and will be made if necessary.
“What we’ve always done is, we adjust our meeting schedules on the fly,” Kennedy said. “Nobody’s had a chance to look at any of this stuff yet, and everybody’s getting all hung up.”
The new master plan is to replace one put together in 2004, but now viewed as outdated, and to help the district figure out how to move forward in its mission to provide fire and emergency medical services to its constituents.
The district has been working on the planning effort since March, and at least one member, board chair Gene Schilling, has publicly indicated his belief that the district needs to ask voters for some kind of tax hike, possibly as early as the November election.
But others on the Steering Committee agreed with Smith, that the process is being rushed.
“We’ve been told on the committee that if we need more time, more time will be made available,” said Tom Flynn, a member of the Master Plan Steering Committee, who attended Tuesday’s meeting and indicated doubt about whether a fully-cooked draft master plan can be presented by Aug. 12, which is the current scheduled completion date.
After considerable discussion at Tuesday’s meeting, however, the fire board did not make any changes in the schedule of meetings and presentations over the coming month.
For months, two teams of hired consultants — Almont Associates of Florida and Mark Chain Consultants of Carbondale — have been working on a two-pronged approach. Almont is concentrating on the “nuts and bolts” of district budgeting, personnel management and other technical matters, while Chain, with the help of longtime local planner Leslie Lamont and others, conducts a public outreach campaign to learn what the taxpayers would like to see from their fire department.
Chain and his team have conducted 13 neighborhood meetings in different parts of the sprawling, 300-square-mile district that extends from Marble to Missouri Heights, as well as taking part in numerous meetings with the Steering Committee.
Almont recently turned in a draft of its portion of the plan, for consideration by the fire district staff and the steering committee, and has asked that any comments or suggested changes be returned to Almont by July 13.
Almont currently is scheduled to present a revised, final draft to the Steering Committee at a meeting on July 29.
At the same time, Chain is working on a chapter of the draft master plan that would deal with the “financial alternatives” facing the district in light of recent fiscal setbacks, such as asking taxpayers for more revenues or trimming the level of services provided to district residents.
Lamont is putting together the “public outreach chapter,” she told The Sopris Sun on Wednesday, which will provide the fire board with input from those district constituents who went to the neighborhood meetings or filled out a survey about what kind of fire district they want.
A summery report of that survey, conducted by a professional survey firm, also is to be completed and submitted in the coming week, for review by the Steering Committee and, ultimately, inclusion in the overall draft Master Plan.
Lamont laid out the schedule of meetings and presentations, including:
• A Steering Committee meeting on July 15 for the survey presentation;
• Circulation of Lamont’s and Chain’s “chapters” on finances and public outreach during the week of July 20, for review by staff and the Steering Committee;
• Two meetings on July 29 for presentation of the final draft of Almont’s portion of the plan, one at noon with the fire board and another at 6 p.m. with the Steering Committee.
• An Aug. 4 meeting of the Steering Committee to review the completed draft, which at that point is supposed to contain all the constituent parts blended together, including feedback from the July reviews with any changes resulting from those reviews. In addition, Lamont said, there is to be a recommendation at that meeting from the Steering Committee, as to whether it feels the draft plan is ready for final consideration or, if not, why not.
• A tentatively scheduled Aug. 6 “town hall” style meeting to unveil the draft plan to the public, if its is ready by that date.
• Presentation of the final draft to the fire board on Aug. 12, if all goes according to schedule.
“The goal is to give the board the opportunity on Aug. 12 to consider the Steering Committee’s recommendation,” Lamont said, on whether the plan is really finished.
All that would be left from there, Lamont said, would be more town-hall meetings to present the finished plan to the public.
Published in The Sopris Sun on July 9, 2015.