City Council opts to add 3 new firefighters in 2020 using funds from recently passed mill levy
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Three new firefighters could join the ranks of Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue as early as next year.
During a work session Tuesday, the Steamboat Springs City Council directed staff to draft an ordinance to add the personnel to a fire department that has become overstretched in recent years.
A 2-mill property tax, which voters approved in November, would fund the new positions. It marks the first property tax the city has levied in 40 years.
The increase in staff would enable the fire department to expand its eight firefighters per shift to 10.
The three firefighters would be in addition to the deputy fire marshal position the City Council approved in its 2020 budget. Additional personnel were not approved for that budget, requiring City Council to pass a supplemental budget, in the form of an ordinance, to hire the three firefighters.
Kim Weber, finance director for the city, said a vote on that ordinance should come in January.
Steamboat Fire Rescue’s strategic plan calls for adding 20 full-time personnel to its roster by 2025, as well as the construction of a new fire station near downtown. This comes as the department has dealt with an increase in calls, particularly calls to respond to multiple emergencies at the same time.
The 2-mill tax should generate about $1.56 million in revenue in 2020, according to Weber. That includes about $100,000 also generated through the property tax, which the Steamboat Springs Redevelopment Authority will remit to the fire department, Weber said.
Hiring the three firefighters should cost about $300,000, she added. That leaves about $1.25 million left over, which unless other operational needs come about, will be set aside for the new fire station, according to Weber.
City Council’s other option on Tuesday was to decide not to hire any additional personnel and wait to apply for grant funding to buttress tax revenue. But Council member Kathi Meyer rejected that option, arguing it would go against voters’ wishes to grow the fire department in the near future.
Deputy Fire Chief Chuck Cerasoli also said the fire department likely would not qualify for the particular grant funding, called the SAFER grant, for which he was planning to apply. As he explained during Tuesday’s work session, the grant requires fire departments to measurably improve their response to fire calls.
“Having one more firefighter on shift doesn’t really help our fire response,” he said.
As the fire department adds more personnel in future years, Cerasoli said the department would be better qualified to receive the grant.
Another option was to add more than three new firefighters next year. Council member Robin Crossan did not think adding so many personnel in a year would be realistic.
“We would rather be slow and deliberate as how we staff (the fire department) as opposed to trying to bring too many people in at once and not have it work out well,” Crossan said.
With revenue from the property tax expected to generate $1.4 to $1.5 million in annual revenue, it could fund the fire department’s strategic plan until 2020, according to Weber. After that, the numbers turn red. By pursuing all of the goals outlined in the plan, the department would have a projected shortfall of $337,000 in 2023, which would grow to $807,000 in 2024 and $1.3 million in 2025.
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