Final words

Two residents attend last meeting on fire district's mill levy increase plan

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Firefighters made their last presentation on their arguments for a mill levy increase that would double

the fire district's budget Monday night.

Craig Fire Chief Roy Mason laid out the Craig Rural Fire District's case for a $550,000 increase, which will be voted on May 7. The fire district is asking for the increase to pay for operations, maintenance, future full-time staff and to purchase, operate and maintain a firefighter training center.

The fire district presently has a budget of $420,000. The last mill levy action involving the district was a decrease in 1994. The last mill levy increase for the fire district was 1990.

"The increase should pass on the operations component alone they need the money," said Dave Dempster, one of two residents that attended Monday evening's presentation. "(The fire department) is absolutely an infrastructure need and people who don't see that are making a major mistake."

Dempster chose not to comment on how he would vote.

In a 15-year projection done by the district, the fire district faces a $6.4 million debt if the budget is not expanded a multi-million dollar debt from operations, maintenance, vehicle replacement and the anticipated necessity of gradually adding full-time staff.

"If the increase doesn't pass, the district will be in serious trouble in three to five years," Mason said. "We'll be forced to make serious cuts in the budget, stop a lot of things we're doing now, just to be able to pay for operations and services. We'll be squeaking by in three or four years."

According to Mason, vehicle replacement is a major issue for the department. Craig Fire/Rescue needs to replace its ladder truck soon, which will cost $800,000, and will then need to replace a fire engine ($450,000) and a water tanker ($100,000).

The present annual budget of $420,000 does not allow the fire district to either purchase those

vehicles or save up to buy them, Mason said.

The $550,000 increase translates into a monthly average increase of $2.50 per household in the 120-sq. mile Craig Rural Fire District, and more than 60 percent of the increase will be paid by the area's large industries.

The total mill for the district after the increase will be 4.397, still one of the lowest in the state.

Fourteen percent of the mill levy increase will go towards the lease purchase of a firefighter training center. The center would be immediately constructed and used if the increase is approved, and would be paid for through a lease purchase agreement, Mason said.

The total cost of the lease purchase for the facility would be $1.5 million.

The center would be located behind the Kmart on Victory Way, where the fire district purchased land in 2001.

The presentation was "informative," according to Kurt Utzinger.

"I'm still trying to determine (if the fire district is an infrastructure need," he said. "I came here for more information."

Utzinger said he did not know how he would vote. The turnout for the public meetings concerned with the fire district's needs was "disappointing," Mason said.

The vote on the Craig Rural Fire District mill levy increase is May 7. The polls will be located in the firehouse at 419 Yampa Ave. and will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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