Craig fire District wants an increase

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Mary Nelson thinks the Craig Rural Fire Protection District is justified in asking voters for a mill levy increase. Jerry Shelton agrees but doesn't think the increase should be infinite. For that reason, Shelton will vote against it at the polls in November.

The Craig Rural Fire Protection District is asking voters for a three-fourths of 1 mill levy increase or the equivalent of a $150,000 yearly budget boost. Fire officials said the proposal is necessary to replace costly fire vehicles and equipment.

According to a small sampling of voters, some people didn't want to comment because they weren't aware of the proposal. Others, such as Glenn Terry, at first were unsure of how they would vote. Terry said he appreciated the work of firefighters, yet he questioned whether an infinite increase is warranted.

"I'll probably vote for it," he said after talking about it among friends. "I don't think the $6 would bother anybody, but I don't think it should be opened-ended."

As the only tax question on November's ballot, the proposal has the potential to raise the taxes about $6 year on a home assessed at $110,000. It would raise the tax the fire department collects from the average home from $15.89 to $21.62 a year.

According to fire officials, at least three emergency fire vehicles need to be replaced in the next 10 years. To replace vehicles that can cost upward of $500,000, the department needs to save money each year, and they're hoping that voters will fund it.

"We're unable to do the things we need to do," board member Bryon Willems said. "We've never leased an engine. We can't even afford to make a lease payment on an engine."

District funds steadily have been decreasing in the past decade because of deflation of the district's highest taxpayers. It has decreased the district's yearly operating budget about $120,000, Willems said.

Topping the department's needs is the replacement of the district's 1970 water tanker truck. Its motor died en route to a structure fire, and the department spent $72,000 to fix it. It died again four months later.

That's one indication that the department can't continue investing money on an aging fleet of emergency vehicles, Fire Chief Chris Nichols said.

"At what point do we stop throwing money at older vehicles," he has said.

Fire officials said they are approaching November's request with sensitivity in the wake of a 2002 proposed mill levy increase that voters overwhelmingly denied. At that time, fire officials requested voters fund a state-of-the-art training center, among other things.

In addition to high-dollar vehicles, the district's current needs include replacing breathing air compressors, out-dated self-contained breathing apparatuses and the station's leaky roof, board members said.

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