Clifton Fire District seeks cash transfusion

District will ask voters for mill-levy hike to cover rising costs

A Clifton firefighter maneuvers a wheeled gurney over the curb as the crew prepares to take a patient to the hospital in the ambulance during a medical call in the Fruitvale area.

Citing a lack of resources, aging buildings and equipment and an overwhelming increase in the number of emergency calls requiring more personnel, the Clifton Fire Protection District is joining the ballot this fall to ask voters for additional funding.

The department’s board of directors decided to pursue the mill-levy increase after months of discussing the agency’s finances. Increasing service demands and declining revenues were at the heart of the decision to pursue additional funding, according to Chief Charles Balke. The district is asking voters for a 2.25 mill increase.

The district only has one station, located at 3254 F Road, and staffs that station with full-time, part-time and volunteer firefighters. Last year, the department responded to 3,239 calls for service, most of those classified as medical emergencies. That represents a 26 percent increase from 2008, when the last mill levy increase was approved by voters.

Though it’s a fire department, the majority of the calls the agency responds to are emergency medical services, not wildland or structure fires.

“Unfortunately in the Clifton community, a lot of people rely on 911 for health care,” Balke said. In 2016, the district responded to almost 2,500 medical calls alone.

The agency serves an estimated 33,000 residents in an area measuring about 11 square miles. The call volume the department is experiencing should have two fully staffed stations, according to industry standards, Balke said.

In addition to making up for lost revenue, the money requested in the mill levy increase would contribute to the district’s long-term plans for a second station, tentatively planned for a location across from Corn Lake State Park on 32 Road, at the Clifton Sanitation District site. Balke also hopes to use money to train and retain staff, as he has trouble keeping trained firefighters on staff because other agencies pay more.

The latest hit to the department’s budget, in addition to a decrease in funding due to flat property values in the Clifton area and state budget formulas, is the city of Grand Junction’s decision to provide emergency services to the properties it annexed in the Pear Park area, which previously were served by the Clifton agency. After the Grand Junction Fire Department’s Station 4 opened in 2016, it notified the Clifton department of its intent to begin providing emergency services to annexed properties within Clifton’s district.

Because of the Persigo sewer agreement, which requires any new development that hooks up to sewer services to be annexed into the city of Grand Junction, properties located within the district’s boundaries have been absorbed by the Grand Junction Fire Department. As of January 2018, the Clifton district will no longer receive the property taxes for serving the area, an estimated $174,000, according to the Clifton board’s calculations.

Though the district participates in mutual aid with neighboring agencies, Balke said there have been occasions where his agency responds to a call in Grand Junction and is unable to respond to a call in its own district, resulting in the call bouncing to another neighboring agency.

“The problem is everybody is getting busier and busier, and we’re just bouncing from call to call,” he said.

The district is also self-sufficient, as it functions in an unincorporated community. Balke is his own administrative assistant, his own human resources staff and his own building manager.

If a toilet breaks, the firefighters fix it. If the station needs to be painted, they do it. There’s no umbrella organization with support staff.

“We don’t have the luxury of having a town to lean on,” he said.

The 2.25 mill increase amounts to about $24 more per year than a property owner with a home actually valued at $150,000 is currently paying on their taxes, making the annual amount $124 per year. The district estimates it would receive about $410,347 for operational and capital improvement projects if it passes, which Balke said is the minimum the district needs to satisfy its demands.

“We’re asking them for bare bones to help us move into the future,” he said.


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