Fire District Leaders Rally for Tax Plan Issue Would Create a New 24/7 Station – Rick Langenberg

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It may have gained the last spot on the Nov. 8 election ballot, but as far as priorities and immediate financial needs, the proposition isn’t lacking any ammunition.
And when it comes to long-range plans, the proposition has been in the works for years, a situation capped by the Waldo Canyon fire that forced emergency service workers to operate from an inadequate structure in their effort to save Ute Pass communities.
Of all the local issues facing voters in the next week, 4A, a proposal to finance a new fire station for the Green Mountain Falls/Chipita Park Fire Protection District, hasn’t received as much attention as the more controversial ballot issues, such as a proposition to end term limits or develop major broadband initiatives.
However, last week leaders of the Green Mountain Falls/Chipita Park Fire Protection District made a final pitch for their plan at a public meeting at the old fire station, a deteriorating building they want to replace and sell off. They are asking voters the right to incur $.3.5 million in debt and to increase taxes annually by $308,000 for constructing a new fire station next to the GMF Town Hall that would establish a full-time department hub.
If successful, it would mark the first tax increase plan of the fire protection district that handles about 1,600 properties. District residents also would reap the benefits of better protection and a fire station that would more than double the limited room they now have with a 60-year-old building located in a flood plain area.
Fire district leaders contend that time isn’t on their side. “The longer we wait, the more expensive and harder this will become to do,” said board member Gary Florence. He also contended that the district may lose potential grant opportunities and have to contend with higher land values.
The district leaders realize they face a tough challenge this November, with a bombardment of ballot propositions.
“The ballot is huge,” admitted Rich Bowman, president of the fire district board. He and other fire district leaders wished they could have garnered a better spot on the ballot for their issue.
But during a question and answer format last week, the district leaders stated they have been developing plans for a new station for a number of years. “A lot of time has gone into this,” added board member Sandy Wupper. In the last few years, several possible deals fell through, including a proposition to use part of the Joyland Church facilities.
“This is really a long-range plan for the future. We hope the citizens see it that way,” explained Bowman.
If voters give them the okay, district leaders believe they could garner more grants from state and federal agencies, and possibly lower their debt obligations.
During last week’s forum, district leaders weren’t shy about unveiling horror stories pertaining to their current station that doesn’t meet standards of the American Disability Act and is pelted with rain waters during the summer, causing occasional flooding. The building, used during the Waldo Canyon fire as an emergency site for fire fighters and law enforcement, was declared as completely inadequate for food service, sanitation and communications.
Bowman said the building worked okay, when the agency mainly just responded to fire calls. But now, the agency, considered one of the most successful nearly all-volunteer-fire departments in the region, responds to a far majority of medical assistance calls, especially in the summer. They grapple with close to 300 calls on an annual basis.
The new proposition, however, won’t fund any new equipment. “We don’t need any new equipment,” said Florence. At the forum, meeting participants got a chance to view the district’s arsenal of tankers and fire trucks in detail. Their current equipment clearly got the thumbs-up by the forum attendees.
“We got everything we need in our plan,” stressed Bowman.
Push for new station
The pinnacle of this new plan hinges on a new station that would encompass a 7,500 to 9,000 square-foot area, approximately double what it has with its current station.
More importantly, the station would feature a living quarters for the agency, permitting a 24/7 operation. It also would come equipped with washing machines and dryers and provide much better access for their equipment.
And with its location on land behind the current GMF Town Hall, it could serve as an emergency operation center for the lower Ute Pass. If the issue gets voter approval, the new station could be constructed by the end of 2017 or early 2018, according to Bowman.
A handful of meeting participants, including new GMF Town Manager John Pick, reacted positively to the plan at last week’s forum.
The major obstacle facing the district deals with the proposed tax increase, which would double the current fire district mill levy. Tax increases aren’t viewed favorably in the Pikes Peak region. But in GMF and the lower Ute Pass, they have fared better than Teller County historically. Most people voting on 4A issue reside in the western edge of El Paso County, with a small number of voters in Teller County.
But district leaders say the tax plan as a vital starting point in their long-range plans for a full-time agency.
Plus, if the issue passes, the district would sell its current main station on Ute Pass Avenue and another satellite facility in Chipita Park.
District leaders still aren’t sure of their chances on Nov. 8, as tax issues are always tricky propositions. But on the upside, no public comments have been filed against their tax plan.