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Carbondale Fire District looks to hold steady with 4C

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By Will Grandbois
Sopris Sun Staff

Carbondale and Rural Fire Protection District has two budgets: one for if voters approve ballot issue 4C to maintain the current level of funding, and other with a more than $600,000 reduction in income.
It’s a cycle the mostly property-tax- funded organization has been caught in since 2013, when the 2-mill increase that had helped offset the worst of the recession expired. The board pursued a more substantial increase with no expiration, but it failed to pass, dropping the district to 5.903 total mills while property values continued to fall. Two lean years later and after extensive public discussion and master planning, the board again pursued an increase — this time for 1.75 mills with a two-year sunset clause, which proved palatable to voters. 
A mill is one-thousandth of the taxable value of property, so the fire district’s current tax rate translates to about $77 in taxes per $100,000 in valuation for residential property compared to $59 at the base rate. Commercial owners pay a higher rate per state regulations. 
The 4C ballot issue is essentially a renewal of the existing override, although this time with a three-year sunset to provide a bit more security and sync better with the biennial cycle of property value assessments. 
“We just want to continue the current level of service with the current level of funding,” said Fire Chief Ron Leach. “It allows us to repair and upgrade needed equipment and maintain staffing for firefighting and EMS.”
Without 4C, the budget has no room for capital projects — which can be as basic as building maintenance or repairs and upgrades to the fleet of ambulances and engines. Decreased funding could also make it difficult to train and retain staff. While the effects might not be apparent initially, Leach fears that such a budget would be “devastating.” 
“It’s an essential community service we’re talking about here,” he said. 
Moreover, while Leach believes the passage of 4C would sustain the department for the next three years, it’s far from a cushy funding level. With reserves at a less than ideal $1.3 million, Carbondale Fire will be back at the mercy of the voters in three years regardless. 
“These short sunset clauses really inhibit our ability to plan,” Leach noted. “It makes it very difficult to follow the master plan we bought.” Even so, he expects to keep the department running as well as it can with whatever it’s given. “We’re very proud of our volunteers, paid staff and the level of fire and ambulance service they provide,” he said.