Fire District refutes ‘rumor mill’ |

Fire District refutes ‘rumor mill’

Fire chief, board president say allegations of extra money unfounded

Ryan Sheridan

The local fire chief and fire district board president refuted assertions Thursday that a mill levy increase is unwarranted.

Craig Fire Chief Roy Mason and Craig Rural Fire District board president Tom Cotton are aware of some of the “rumor mill” allegations, and both state those hints of hidden accounts and cheaper options for training centers are untrue.

The fire district always carries a balance of $250,000 to $300,000 each year so the district can pay its bills during the first financial quarter, when it is waiting for its tax-based funds to be sorted out, Cotton said.

“It has always been the policy of the board, for as long as I was in the fire department and have been a part of the board, to carry a balance to cover the first part of the year while we wait to start getting our checks,” he said.

“We have to keep X amount to keep functioning while we’re waiting for our money, or else we’re screwed we would have no way to pay bills.”

Cotton said the Craig Rural Fire District had a balance of $343,000 in its general fund as of December 31, 2001, and most of that money has been used to fund the district in January, February and March.

When the tax allocations are received, a similar balance will exist at the end of this year in preparation next year’s cycle.

Some of the general fund balance could be used for emergency expenses or purchases, but the bulk of the account is dedicated to keeping the district functioning.

The upcoming brush season could be an explosive one, and could serve as an example of what those emergency funds are for, Mason said.

“We might have an intense brush fire season, and respond to a lot of local and mutual aid calls,” he said. “The extra salaries and vehicle maintenance, purchasing equipment and gear, we could be over budget by $10,000. And then what happens if one of our trucks is seriously damaged? The trucks get beat up on brush fire calls, and are very expensive to repair.”

Mason said those who allege that a less expensive option for a training center exists “are not comparing oranges to oranges” the training centers in Hayden and Rifle consist only of towers and are not similar to the comprehensive facility the Craig Rural Fire District is seeking to build.

The district plans to build a $1.5 million training center with 14 percent of the requested increase.

The facility would have a 50-seat classroom, a five-story burn tower, a controlled-burn area, a driving course and areas for training concerning automobile extraction, trench rescue, constricted area rescue and Hazardous Materials (Haz-Mat) situations.

The facility would be purchased through a lease-purchase program, allowing the district to build and use the training center immediately. The facility would be constructed on land behind the K-mart the district purchased in 2001.

The future of the district has several large expenditures on the horizon, expenditures that will have to be made by the district, Mason said.

“I would ask a business person, if you had to replace a vehicle for $400,000, would you borrow 100 percent of the cost or put money aside towards the cost? Some people aren’t looking at (the mill levy increase) in a business sense,” Mason said. “There is always a good reason for our board’s decisions about money. They have been very stingy with us at times to make sure the taxpayers are protected along with the district at all times.

“The board does a very good job of holding to me to the line and making sure we’re on budget and can protect our district.”

On Tuesday, the Craig Rural Fire District is asking voters within its 120-square mile area to approve a $550,000 mill levy increase, raising more than doubling the district’s annual budget to $970,000.

The district has shown that if its budget is not increased, the district will face a $6.4 million debt in 15 years.

The costs of operations, maintenance, vehicle replacement and the gradual addition of full-time staff will overwhelm the present budget of $420,000, district representatives have said.

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