City Council OKs 5-year plan for Steamboat Fire Rescue, calling new fire station ‘pricey but important’
Editor’s note: The Steamboat Pilot & Today has updated this article to reflect that council member Kathi Meyer voted against the plan.
All seven Steamboat Springs City Council members voted unanimously Tuesday to approve a plan that would grant funding and outline structure for Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue for the next five years.
The plan details several goals and plans for the department, but specifically highlights the need for firefighters to have additional training and education in fighting and preventing wildfires, as well as plans for a new central fire station, which council has not yet picked a location for and may not do so until 2022 or 2023.
While council members agreed the overall plan was necessary, council member Kathi Meyer raised concern over its hefty price tag — specifically the proposed $17,483,871 for a new fire station, which is set into the 2022 budget. Meyer voted against the plan.
“Those numbers are eye-popping,” Meyer said. “I guess my question to you (Fire Chief Chuck Cerasoli) is, ‘How do we adopt a strategic plan that we can’t afford.’”
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Cerasoli said the numbers outlined are not final, rather they provide a guideline estimating what costs could be to keep up with what he said are “necessary demands.”
“The strategic plan is an outline of where we feel the fire department should be in the future and it gives us a map to try and get there,” Cerasoli said. “It gives us a little bit of a look forward to what it might cost in the future and allows us to put our heads together of how we might get there.”
Council member Sonja Macys, who sits on the Fire District Board along with council member Robin Crossan and Steamboat City Manager Gary Suiter, said the $17 million number is an estimated breakdown of the cost of construction per square foot — about $726 per square foot.
“It’s a high number and I get that, but we also have this taxpayer funding that we have agreed to use, so we felt comfortable with it,” Macys said. “We’re trying to make sure we get it right for our taxpayers who supported it.”
While the city only spent about $500 per square foot on the Combined Law Enforcement Facility the Steamboat Springs Police Department shares with the Routt County Sheriff’s Office, Macys, who said her husband works in construction, emphasized that building costs have skyrocketed over the past few years.
In response, Suiter said he believed the city may be able to get the cost down closer to $600 to $650 per square foot.
“This number is going to be wrong whatever it is, and we’re not building it this year or next,” said council member Lisel Petis, emphasizing that the numbers presented are just an estimate and not a full commitment to spend that exact amount of money.
Though the new station represented the largest cost estimate, Cerasoli also estimated $320,000 in 2021 and $584,640 in 2022 for personnel costs, as he hopes to add more firefighters and promote entry-level firefighters within the department.
“Make no mistake, it will be a challenge to fund this, and it will require additional funding,” Suiter said. “But police and fire are important to this community.”
The plan also outlined exploring ways to implement a long-term plan for fire rescue that would focus heavily on wildfire mitigation and response, both in city limits and throughout the state, as firefighters are frequently deployed to fight fires across the west.
“You see, these fires in California and other places where people’s houses are burning down, and sometimes, you feel like it’s not going to happen to us,” council member Michael Buccino said. “We really need to be concerned, because this can just come right in and devastate us all.”
City Council will still be required to pass a second reading of the plan at a future meeting for it to be formally adopted.
To reach Alison Berg, call 970-871-4229 or email aberg@SteamboatPilot.com.
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