Garfield fire districts moving toward merger
Two Garfield County fire districts are taking the last steps toward a merger aimed at serving residents in a more cost-effective manner.
The Rifle Fire Protection District and the Burning Mountains Fire Protection District, which serves Silt and New Castle, began discussing a merger more than four years ago. In 2012 they formed a separate entity, the Colorado River Fire Rescue Authority, responsible for providing all fire and emergency services in the districts’ combined 851-square-mile area, using 120 volunteer, part-time and full-time firefighters and emergency medical service personnel and seven stations.
In a news release, the authority said that move significantly increased response capabilities in the combined service area and eliminated duplicative administrative and support personnel services, saving money. It resulted in a decrease in the mill levy rate for Rifle property owners and led to improved insurance ratings in the combined service area, which will result in reduced premiums for most property owners.
“Establishing Colorado River Fire Rescue Authority has been a very successful first step in the merger process; however, there is more work to be done,” the authority said in its release.
As a separate legal entity, the authority must have its own board, budget, attorney and auditor, as do the two fire districts, “which is an inefficient use of resources and taxpayer funds,” the authority said.
“With a downturn in the economy and significant decrease to property values and assessed values for the two fire protection districts, we continue to evaluate areas of efficiency.”
Those areas include pursuing a permanent merger into a single fire district and eliminating the authority. At a combined Dec. 14 meeting, both district boards formally approved moving forward with the merger. The Burning Mountains district also has changed its name to the Colorado River Fire Protection District. On Feb. 11, the Rifle district will consider whether to transfer its service area to the Colorado River fire district.
If the transfer is approved, that district would be dissolved once the process of transferring the service area, personnel and trucks and equipment is completed. The authority also would be eliminated.
“As well, the process is being established so that the elected official representation on the Colorado River Fire Protection District board consists of representation from throughout the jurisdiction,” the authority said.
The goal is to complete the project within the next four months. Officials say that because the tax rate within the Colorado River fire district is lower, all of the Rifle district area transferred into it will see a tax reduction.