Steamboat fire district inclusion election will not be held in May
November 14, 2018
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — A May election to determine whether Steamboat Springs would be included in the surrounding fire protection district — and pay its property tax — will not happen.
Around 11:15 p.m., in hour six of Tuesday's Steamboat Springs City Council meeting, the council voted unanimously to table discussions on emergency services funding. Before deciding to table it, two motions on the subject failed in tie votes with Council President Jason Lacy absent from the meeting.
"We've talked for an hour. We're just churning right now," said Council President Pro-Tem Kathi Meyer said as she voiced her readiness to move the issue to council's Dec. 4 meeting.
Under an agreement between City Council and the fire district, council had to determine where it would allocate the $1.86 million it currently pays for emergency services if the inclusion measure passed. This decision had to be made before the district filed to request an election in the 14th Judicial District Court. Without this decision Tuesday night, council will not meet the district's deadline to place the measure before voters in May.
The election would've put an option before voters to include the city in the surrounding Steamboat Springs Area Fire Protection District. Including the city in the district would have levied the district's property tax on city residents.
Council members Heather Sloop, Sonja Macys and Lisel Petis supported a motion to place the measure on the ballot in May, and if approved, would have likely resulted in a discussion of where the city's funding offset would be allocated.
Council members Scott Ford, Robin Crossan and Meyer supported a motion to form a citizens committee that would be tasked with coming up with a recommendation for the council in May 2019 and a ballot measure in November 2019. This measure failed when council members opposed to it expressed concern that including language about a November ballot measure would create a pre-determined outcome.
The future is now unclear for long-term funding for emergency services and the construction of a new, larger fire station to house additional crew in the downtown area. Crossan emphasized that Steamboat Fire Rescue is fully funded for the next two years.
Next year's budget, which was approved at Tuesday’s meeting, will transfer three part-time positions to full-time staff. The agency's budget request to build a new station remains unfunded.
Council expressed interest in quickly forming a citizens committee to explore options to increase emergency services funding.
Bob Weiss, an attorney representing several property owners who opposed the May election, said he was optimistic about the idea of forming a citizens committee. He believes this group could develop a plan with community support to "fully take care of emergency services in the community and save the taxpayers money."
"The more things they talk about, the more dialogue they have with the fire department, the better," he said.
In not holding a May election, some are concerned it will delay funding needed to hire additional staff and construct a larger firehouse.
If the city and district were to pursue an inclusion measure in November 2019, the district would not be able to start collecting revenue from a successful measure until January 2021, said Randall Hannaway, assistant secretary of the fire district board. In the meeting, Meyer said if city voters approved a city sales or property tax in November 2019, the city could start collecting tax in January 2020.
Hannaway was disappointed that the measure didn't go before voters.
"There’s no guarantee that if this went to the ballot in May that it would’ve passed, but at least the voters would’ve been the one saying ‘Hey, we’re wanting to take the risk,'” he said. "Now, it was a small group of commercial property owners and the council who decided that they’d make that decision for the public, and that’s the part that personally I don't agree with. I’d rather have a chance to weigh in on it in my own vote."
He said significant time, energy and money had been invested in the measure.
"I wish I could get my year back," he said with a laugh. "But that’s OK. They (City Council) have a very difficult job, and I respect that. If they feel there's a better way to go about it, then it's currently in their purview, and that’s what they should do."
He said the fire district board would continue to support Steamboat Fire Rescue and continue in the city's current intergovernmental agreement to provide emergency services in both the city and the district.