Now to November (8-24-06)

Fire district laying the groundwork for mill-levy campaign

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Officials with the Craig Rural Fire District are laying the groundwork for a November election that they deem critical to improving the department and protecting the public.

In November, the fire district will ask voters to approve a 1.5 mill-levy property tax increase. If approved by voters, by and large a dicey proposition given recent questions for higher taxes, the funds would be used for capital improvements.

Board president Byron Willems said Wednesday that mill-levy proponents are busy designing "professional presentations" outlining the need for more department funding. The group also has scheduled at least 20 speaking engagements before local groups.

"We're literally scheduled to talk to just about anybody who will allow us to come and talk," said Willems, a firefighter for 23 years before retiring to join the board of directors. He added, "This campaign will go until the day of the election, I think."

Another component to the campaign is mustering opponents and proponents to join a mill-levy committee. The group will meet at 6 p.m. Wednesdays at the Craig Fire Station, 419 Yampa Ave.

As of now, the committee includes three firefighters and one community member.

Willems said all opinions regarding the ballot question will be considered during those discussions.

"Anyone is welcome," he said. "I think it's one of those things that's wonderful if whoever comes wants to be educated about the mill levy. ... The more people interested, the better off we all are."

Fire officials contend that without an approved mill levy, the department will have "difficulty continuing to perform at its current level without a plan to maintain and upgrade fire apparatus," according to a campaign flier.

The department's current mill levy, 1.977 mills, ranks among the lowest for fire departments in Colorado.

An approved mill levy would cost the owner of a $100,000 home $27.96 a year. It is estimated that an approved tax measure would raise between $310,000 and $350,000 a year for the department.

The mill levy would fund the department's 10-year, $3 million capital improvement plan. The plan calls for replacing six aging fire engines, a self-contained breathing apparatus and a compressor by 2015.

It also includes remodeling the station in 2012 to accommodate for district growth.

The November tax question splits the difference between two failed mill-levy questions in recent years. Two years ago, voters rejected a proposal to increase the department's funding by a mill.

Before that, voters turned down a 2-mill increase proposal.

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