Fire funding, plastic bags and annexation on Steamboat City Council’s agenda
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Though the need to expand Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue’s emergency services is clear, the way to do so remains smoky.
Steamboat Fire Rescue provides firefighting and emergency medical services to the city and the surrounding Steamboat Springs Area Fire Protection District. All of Steamboat’s firefighters also are trained as EMTs, at a minimum.
While the area’s population and number of emergencies the agency responds to has grown, the department’s staffing has not kept up. The number of emergency personnel at the city has remained at about 30 full-time equivalent employees for the past 15 years, though in the most recent budget cycle, Steamboat Springs City Council approved shifting three firefighter/EMTs from part time to full time.
Over the past nine years, Steamboat Fire Rescue has seen a 24% increase in calls and a 64% increase in concurrent calls, which is when emergency personnel are working more than one call at a time. These concurrent calls are what the agency is struggling with most.
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Right now, if firefighters are called to a second emergency when they’re already in the field, the agency struggles to respond with a full ambulance or engine crew. It’s a problem that gets worse as more calls come in, meaning the department relies on firefighters who are willing to come in when they’re off duty to respond to a third or fourth concurrent call.
City Council will discuss funding options for the city department and possible locations of a larger downtown fire station at its Tuesday work session.
“No one has debated that (need), whether it’s council or the community,” said Steamboat Fire Rescue Chief Mel Stewart. “The question was well how do we fund that? The demand and the need haven’t changed.”
Stewart said the department forecasted a 3% increase in call volume in 2018. What they actually saw was more than double that — a 7.7% increase in call volume over 2017.
“It certainly has been and continues to increase, and that year, it was at a faster rate than even our projections,” he said.
What: Steamboat Springs City Council meeting
When: 5 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Citizens’ Meeting Room in Centennial Hall, 124 10th St.
To view previous meetings about fire funding and the fire station site selection, visit http://co-steamboatsprings.civicplus.com/653/Key-Sessions-Topics.
Last year, the Steamboat Sptings Area Fire Protection District sought an election to allow city voters to decide if they would be included within the district’s boundaries. The move would’ve increase funding for the city department, which provides services for the district, by levying the same up to 9 mill property tax property owners in the district pay in city limits.
At a Nov. 2018 meeting, City Council tabled discussions on emergency services funding, missing the deadline to place a ballot question before voters. The council appointed a seven-person citizen’s committee to explore this and other funding options.
This is the committee’s first presentation to council. The committee has met seven times since Feb. 11, according to documents that will be presented to City Council this week.
According to the documents, the committee will present two options: a 4-mill property tax or a combination of a 2-mill property tax and a new tax on marijuana and alcohol.
City Council will also discuss the findings of another citizen’s committee, which was charged with selecting a site for a new, centrally located fire station.
“The demand for our services is increasing,” Stewart said. “We projected they were going to be increasing, and they have. We need to expand our capabilities, and as part of that expansion of capabilities, it means building a new station in the downtown area and also staffing that station. This is a piece of the puzzle on how to get there, as far as being able to continue to provide a high level of service or maintain a level of service that we currently provide the community.”
This project is currently unfunded, though the emergency services funding citizen’s committee will also present on funding options for a new station.
Three sites are in the running — a lot at 13th Street and Lincoln Avenue across the highway from Bud Werner Memorial Library, the site of current city offices at 137 10th Street and the site of the current downtown fire station at 840 Yampa Street.
City Council will also make a determination on the annexation referendum petition to determine if the petition has enough signatures to send the question of annexing 191 acres west of city limits to municipal voters. It will also work through the possibility of a ban or fee on single-use plastic bags.
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