Voters OK tax increase for fire service in Breck | SummitDaily.com
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Voters OK tax increase for fire service in Breck

by Jane Stebbins

BRECKENRIDGE – Voters in the Red, White and Blue Fire Protection District approved a tax increase Tuesday that will give the district $960,000 each year to buy new fire trucks, improve training and hire firefighters.

Voters in the district – which ranges from Hoosier Pass to Farmer’s Korner – approved the 2-mill levy increase by a vote of 183 to 136.

They also returned incumbents Eric Franzen and Bob Greenlee to the fire district board and elected newcomer Teresa Perkins.

But voters turned down by a narrow margin a ballot question asking to eliminate term limits for board members, 146 to 156.

“We appreciate the trust and support of the community,” Kim O’Brien, public information officer for the fire district, said Tuesday night. “It seems we have the public’s trust and confidence and that showed the the public’s vote.”

The fire department last went to a mill levy election in 1998 – and asked voters to decrease the mill levy from 5.2 to 4.5. In that same referred measure, voters also approved a question that allowed the district to gradually raise that mill levy back to 5.2 as needed.

The cost to operate the district has almost doubled since 1998, from $1.49 million to $2.97 million.

The tax increase will be implemented over time, depending on the needs of the department. Officials there have examined a wide array of needs scenarios, ranging from replacing the 26-year-old ladder truck, buying another engine, the possible need for service in the Peaks 7 and 8 area and the need to hire more personnel.

Fire department officials also hope to hire another fire prevention officer in the next year, and they are monitoring the changes taking place among the volunteer ranks.

Officials plan to keep both the volunteer and resident programs – they save the district about $500,000 a year in salaries – but the ranks of volunteers are shrinking.

“There’s been a change in motivation,” said Assistant Chief Gary Green. “What used to motivate volunteers to join a fire department was the desire to serve the community. It’s difficult to work two or three jobs and meet the time commitment the fire department requires. Now we’re seeing younger individuals who see it as a foot in the door.”

The fire department currently has 30 active volunteers, 12 full-time resident firefighters, 13 staff and six administrative members.

Chief John Moles cited faster response times – from when the call is dispatched to the time firefighters to leave the station with an engine – as a primary reason for needing more personnel.

In 1998, the average time for firefighters – most of whom had to respond from home or work – was 2:45. When the fire department implemented a shifting program, putting firefighters at the station around the clock, that time dropped to 1:20. Firefighters participating in the residency program have helped lower that tim to 50 seconds.

“The national standard is one minute,” Moles said. “This two-minute improvement is a long time, if your house is on fire or if you’re having a heart attack.”

Jane Stebbins can be reached at 668-3998 ext. 228 or jstebbins@summitdaily.com.


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