Durangoans will have a chance in November to vote to support the operational needs of the Fire Protection District. A 2.5 mill property tax, which will raise about $1.3 million in its first year, will be on the ballot.
Because of an increasing number of calls, the district needs additional personnel and equipment and some station remodeling. To meet its current expenses this year, the district is applying $460,000 from reserves to its operating budget; next year, without the mill levy, it could require about $500,000.
The mill levy would add $72 in taxes to a home valued at $400,000. For a commercial building valued at $1 million, because of the higher assessment percentage on non-residential property, it would be $725.
Between now and the election, expect there to be plenty of conversations about the merits of the possible tax increase. What will not be on the ballot will be the possible relocation of Station No. 2, the station on the Animas River next to River City Hall. Almost everyone, including the four members of City Council present who voted Tuesday to put the mill levy on the ballot, agree that there should be numerous additional conversations about where that station should be located.
The mill levy, which would raise $1.3 million, is not sufficiently large to fund a new station.
Among members of the business community there is resistance to the current favored location, the parking lot west of the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.
That site is considered to be the entrance to Durango, and worthy of significant commercial use rather than a fire district building. Whether that is a convention or arts center, a hotel, or a mix of retail and open space is uncertain, but given its geographic prominence, it needs the expertise that community planners would apply.
For the fire district, the location is about right, between the station in Bodo Industrial Park and the station just north of Durango’s city limits.
Detractors, however, suggest that one practical reason not to locate a new station there is the high volume of traffic that already exists at the intersection of College Drive and U.S. Highway 550 (at the entrance to the DoubleTree Hotel).
As to alternatives, the Colorado Department of Transportation has offered land on the east side of the intersection of Santa Rita Drive and U.S. 550-160. While Eighth Avenue is nearby, that is too far from downtown and locations to the north, according to the district, and might drive up insurance rates.
In response to the argument that the parking lot deserves to be put to “its highest and best use,” Fire Chief Hal Doughty has an appealing response. Doughty told the council members that given Durango’s culture, “highest and best use” is not considered in dollars and cents. For Durangoans, it is being able to assist those in need, family and friends, as skillfully and compassionately as possible – proximately and response time play a role.
Durango’s location in a narrow river valley has served it well, so far. Durango was not able to sprawl like so many other towns and cities, and had to maintain its downtown commercial and residential areas; that is Durango’s appeal.
But that river valley has filled up, and land that is properly located for a fire station, for example, is difficult to identify.
If the fire station does move from its current location, that river bank parcel will have plenty of interested parties. It could be a spectacular addition to the city’s park holdings, or with access could appeal to a hotel company.
Get involved in the discussion about the possible location of a new fire station, but remember that decision will not be on the November ballot.
Consider the fire district’s pressing operational needs when you vote “yes” or “no” to its mill levy request.