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Fire district board votes to move forward with out-of-district fees

Public hearing set for July 2 meeting


At its June 4 meeting, the Pagosa Fire Protection District (PFPD) Board of Directors voted to hold a public hearing and vote on imposing fees for out-of-district responses at its upcoming July 2 meeting.

Fire Chief Robert Bertram introduced the topic, explaining that the proposed language for the out-of-district responses would state that out-of-district responses would be billed based on Colorado Resource Rate Form (CRRF) rates for equipment and personnel.

He explained that these fees are standardized and used statewide for when firefighting equipment is used for responses outside of the fire district, such as when assisting another agency in fighting a wildfire.

Bertram stated that, according to the current rates, type one engines would cost $133 an hour, type six engines would cost $73 and tactical water tenders would cost $123 an hour.

He commented that the CRRF also provides standardized rates for various types of personnel and that using the rates would be useful because the fee schedule could state that billing for out-of-district responses follows the CRRF rates instead of the schedule requiring adjustments every year.

Bertram stated that, for a recent wildfire in Aspen Springs that also burned a structure, the approximate cost would be $3,900 for equipment and $4,400 for personnel for a five-hour response.

He noted that this calculation did not factor in a variety of fire crews from other agencies involved in fighting the fire.

“That would be the easiest, cleanest way to bill it,” Bertram said, referring to the CRRF rates.

PFPD board member Wayne Hooper asked whether insurance companies will typically pay these costs or “balk.”

“We’d have to bill to find out,” Bertram replied.

He added that the district has had a cost-recovery program with automobile accidents in place for some time, but has not attempted to collect on structures.

PFPD board member James Martin noted that collections for the automobile cost recovery program are at approximately 20 percent.

Bertram commented that the PFPD considered imposing similar fees under a previous fire chief, but did not ultimately do so.

He mentioned that the board had discussed holding a public hearing on the fees prior to imposing them at its next meeting.

Hooper stated that he would support this and that his “ultimate goal” would be to expand the district to cover all portions of the county that are currently not served by a fire district.

Imposing the fees would be a first step, Bertram commented, adding that the district could then pursue a variety of different options, including attempting to include more portions of the county.

The board then discussed the responsibilities of sheriff’s offices for wildland fires and that the PFPD is having to respond to a variety of non-wildfire emergencies outside of its district.

It also discussed the processes for including properties into the district, with Bertram noting that the inclusion process is controlled by the PFPD board, which makes the decisions on if a petition to be included in the district is accepted.

He added that the district could also hold an election where the residents of a certain area could vote on whether to be included in the district or not.

Martin asked Bertram if he intends to apply the fees for out-of-district responses and attempt to collect them.

Bertram stated that this is his plan as a way to “open up discussion” and promote public discussion of the need for additional revenues for the fire district.

Martin and Bertram expressed doubt that the district would obtain significant revenue from the fees.

The group then discussed the impacts of fire district membership on home insurance, with Martin and PFPD board member Ronald Beckman commenting that highlighting insurance impacts could be a way to further emphasize the importance of the issue.

Hooper asked if the district would have the right to place a lien on the property of an individual who refuses to pay fees owed to the district for an out-of-district response.

PFPD legal counsel Dino Ross stated that liens were previously not allowed, but that a bill passed in the most recent Colorado legislative session would allow the district to do this, although he commented that he was unsure if this would be a “good idea.”

The group then discussed how the potential for firefighting services to be unsolicited would enter into the issue before concluding that including the rest of the county that is not within the fire district would be the “right solution,” as Ross expressed.

Hooper commented that the district holding an election to expand the district could give additional “teeth” to the district potentially refusing to provide fire service to residents if the vote failed.

Ross commented that denial of service is a potentially complex issue, which Hooper noted he did not want to become involved with.

Martin added that it would be a “tough” issue.

Bertram commented that the strategy of expanding the district could be factored into its strategic planning.

Following a brief discussion of how to structure the motion, the board then moved to direct staff to integrate the CRRF rates for out-of-district responses into the fee schedule and to hold a public hearing and consider adopting these rates at its next meeting, which will be held at 5:30 p.m. on July 2 in the PFPD administration building.

This meeting will follow a PFPD Firefighters’ Pension Board board of trustees meeting scheduled to occur at the same time on July 2.