Durango fire district faces deficit

Wednesday, Oct. 29, 2014 3:10 PM

The Durango Fire Protection District will have to dip into savings to cover expenses next year for the first time since 2009.

The district is prepared to deficit spend $550,634 in 2015 mostly to pay for salaries that had been funded by grants, Fire Chief Dan Noonan said.

The federal grant the district had been receiving to pay firefighter salaries at the 32nd Street station cannot be renewed until the middle of 2015.

As a result, Noonan and the governing board is prepared to spend $456,600 in 2015 to keep the station staffed with professional firefighters.

“I don’t see where it’s in our best interests to even consider closing the station,” Noonan said.

The entire fire district has a low number of firefighters compared with the number of emergency calls it receives. This makes it likely the federal government will renew the district’s grant next year, Noonan said. If this is the case, the district will have to pay for six salaries only through the first half of 2015.

If the grant is not renewed, Noonan expects 2016 property tax revenue will be enough to cover the salaries.

The district is well prepared to absorb extra costs after saving $1.3 million since 2009, Noonan said.

Some of the other factors soaking up the district’s $9.9 million in revenue include a new ambulance, four new SUVs, fee studies and raises.

Fire district personnel will receive a 3 percent raise in 2015, the first raise in three years.

One of the studies will examine where 911 calls are coming from and if the fire district has enough firefighters stationed in the right place to respond in a timely manner.

The results will help show whether the district needs to ask for greater funding from more residents, Noonan said. Currently, the district receives impact fees from developers of large subdivisions such as developments by Purgatory at Durango Mountain Resort. But those fees do not apply to all areas of new residential growth.

“There’s a level of unfairness to that,” he said.

Once Noonan has the results of the studies, he may approach the Durango City Council and La Plata County commissioners to consider new fees.

These fees would help the district keep up with purchasing new equipment.