Craig Fire Chief Chris Nichols predicted Tuesday afternoon that votes for the only tax question on the ballot would be close -- but he couldn't have predicted how tight the numbers would turn out.
According to unofficial numbers Tuesday night, voters denied a tax increase to allow the Craig Rural Fire Protection District to replace an aging fleet of emergency vehicles by a small margin.
With 10 of 14 precincts reporting, the measure was supported by about 44 percent of the voters in the fire district.
"Obviously, we're disappointed," Nichols said. "There will come a time down the road when we cannot operate on our current finances. I hope we don't have to suffer a catastrophic loss."
Nichols said it is unfortunate that taxpayers don't seem to weigh the merit of each tax measure independently.
Fire Board member Byron Willems said the failed tax would have a negative effect on the department's aging fleet of emergency vehicles.
"People need to know that our firefighters are dedicated, but the public will see less service," he said.
Fire officials said the $150,000-a-year budget increase was needed to replace an aging fleet of emergency vehicles and other equipment. Residential property owners would have seen an increase of about $6 a year for a home assessed at $110,000.
During the next decade, district officials said they would need to replace two water trucks and two brushfire-fighting trucks, upgrade the radio system, purchase protective equipment and fix the station's leaky roof.
District officials have said the department needs the money because of a steady decrease in revenues in the past decade. In 1994, revenues were $535,000, compared to this year's operating budget of $415,000.
Fire officials said they needed the funding to escape the cycle of losing money on retrofitting aging vehicles.
Although department officials expect to they'll face about $1 million in expenses in the next decade, buying new vehicles might be a less expensive option, Fire Chief Chris Nichols said.
Fire officials said they posed the tax question cognizant that the district suffered a landslide defeat from voters in 2002. At that time, the district requested, among other things, money to build a state-of-the-art training center.