Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue firefighters have more to be thankful for this holiday weekend after the district board of directors approved funding for the department's first pay raises in two years Tuesday.
Fire officials are loosening the purse strings in the 2013 budget on personnel and capital spending after voters overwhelmingly passed a property tax measure increasing the department's budget by $550,000 a year.
Lake Dillon Fire will use the extra cash to fund line items that are expected to promote the department's level of service by ensuring equipment is up-to-date and highly qualified employees are retained in Summit County.
"We don't like to have other departments poaching our firefighters or other staff after we've invested a lot into training them and getting them rooted here," Lake Dillon fire spokesman Steve Lipsher said. "What the board has approved is keeping our salaries competitive so we don't lose valuable employees to better paying departments."
Fire officials agreed Tuesday to set aside $140,000 to provide a maximum 4 percent pay increase to staffers in 2013. A salary study showed Lake Dillon firefighters' and staff's pay beginning to lag behind similar departments in other areas after two years of frozen salaries.
"A number of our positions were certainly at the very low end of the latest comparative study that we had for departments in similar size and budget," Lake Dillon fire chief Dave Parmley told members of the board Tuesday.
The department will also put up $22,500 more than originally planned to purchase a more sophisticated notification system for the Keystone fire station, following the tax measure approval.
The new system will allow dispatchers to direct calls for emergency services to the specific stations closest to the incident. It will also help ensure firefighters receive calls at the Keystone station, which is in a bad reception area.
"That is going to hopefully solve a radio dead spot," Lipsher said.
The fire department will also be purchasing a new fire engine this year, a capital expense officials have been planning and saving for over time, but which might have been delayed if the extra tax funding had not come through.
The .741-mill property tax increase, boosting taxes by about $5.90 on every $100,000 of property value for residents in the Lake Dillon district, passed Nov. 6 with 62 percent of local voters' support, though there was limited campaigning for the measure.
The property-tax dependent department decided to go to voters for an increase after the recession's impact on local property values forced the district to cut $1.2 million from the budget.
Though delighted with the tax increase success, fire officials promised taxpayers they would continue to run a tight ship.
"And to those voters who opposed the measure, we heard your voices too," Lake Dillon board president Jerry "Doc" Peterson stated in a release from the district following the results of the election. "And of course we will continue to operate the department through conservative budgeting and a sharp red pencil toward any extraneous costs."
But despite policies of conservative budgeting, officials say the district never hesitates to spend the necessary funds on the training and equipment that protect firefighters' safety and ensure effective responses.
"We want to make sure our guys have everything they need," Lipsher said. "We do take a lot of pride in having a well-equipped, well-trained staff."