Members of the Durango Fire and Rescue Authority work through a training scenario at the late Boker Lumber building last year. The DFRA is asking local voters to support a measure that would help cover a budget shortfall of nearly $1.5 million./Photo by Steve Eginoire


To the rescue

Durango Fire & Rescue appeals to voters
by Tracy Chamberlin

They are the ones who answer the calls for help and put their lives on the line for others. Now, area firefighters are asking residents to lend them a hand.  This November, the Durango Fire and Rescue Authority will ask voters to approve a change to the current tax rate that would ultimately cover a recent budget shortfall of nearly $1.5 million. The measure will also balance out disparate rates and consolidate supervisory boards among its three districts.
The three fire protection districts – Animas, Hermosa Cliff and Durango – are funded by mill levies, a part of the equation that determines property taxes. The current mill levy for Animas Fire Protection is 5.069, Hermosa Cliff is 6.850, and Durango is 2.507. The measure proposes setting all three at 6.8.
Running in when others run out

The biggest difference will be for city residents, who haven’t seen a change in their levy since 1983. At the current rate, city residents pay $80 for a $400,000 home and $365 for a $500,000 business property. If the measure passes, that rate would be $217 and $986, respectively.
Since property tax bills don’t go out until after the first of the year, the real impact on the voters’ pocketbooks won’t be realized until then.
And while city taxpayers may feel the biggest hit, despite the fact that they live the closest to the fire station and hydrants, they also live where the potential for a major fire is greatest. In the past five years, three major fires have occurred in downtown Durango.
Durango Mayor Christina Rinderle believes the potential loss of revenue is worth the investment. Rinderle, who also serves on the Board of Directors for the Regional Housing Alliance, said she recommends RHA clients support the measure.
“I think we need a safe community above all else,” Rinderle added.
Homeowners will not be the only ones getting a bill in January. Rental property owners have the same decision to make. Kerry Coleman, owner of Durango Property Management, however, doesn’t believe rental rates will be affected because the current rental market is so competitive.
Another supporter of the measure is Jack Llewellyn, executive director for the Durango Chamber of Commerce. He said he plans on voting “yes.”
The chamber has decided not to take an official position, but will help the Fire and Rescue Authority educate4
voters on the specifics of the ballot measure. This includes a flyer in the chamber’s monthly newsletter, emails, a radio interview, and possibly a link on the chamber’s website.
Other ingredients of the measure include an increase of the Durango Fire Protection District’s budget for next year to 2010 levels and approval of a “de-Brucing” of the Colorado Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. In other words, the mill levy will remain at 6.8 despite changing market conditions. “If the community grows, we grow with it,” Noonan said.
But the department does not expect a sudden deluge of cash if it passes. “My goal is only to get to 2010 levels,” Noonan said.
The 2010 budget was $7.7 million; this year it dropped to $6.3 million. Noonan said no particular services were lost. The department continues to provide ambulance, fire and rescue assistance. However, sacrifices have been made in other areas.
“We saw this economic storm brewing,” he admitted, which is why his department has had a wish list of capital expenditures on hold since 2007. Buildings, trucks and equipment are on that list. Even salaries, which were frozen in 2009, are in limbo.
Only two members of the department earn a salary that is considered to be equal to market value. All others earn 83 percent of market value, according to Noonan.
If the measure passes and DFRA returns to 2010 budget levels, Noonan added he would like to see the money go to three specific areas: salaries, training and capital expenditures. Ultimately, however, it’s up to the Durango Fire and Rescue Authority’s Board of Directors to decide where the funds will go.
Bill Webbe, chair of the authority’s board, agrees with Noonan’s choices. He said salaries and capital expenditures would be the first items he would consider investing in.
While the measure may cost taxpayers more, it would save the City of Durango almost $1 million. Funds the city would have spent on the department from its general fund, much of which comes from sales tax. Mayor Rinderle said the extra money could go to use on several outstanding projects, such as a new parking garage downtown.
The third main ingredient of the measure restructures the way the DFRA is governed. In 2006, voters chose to create the Durango Fire Protection District, but not to fund it as a single entity. This left five separate boards – Animas Fire Protection District, Hermosa Cliffs Fire Protection District, Durango Fire Protection District, Durango Fire and Rescue Authority and the City of Durango – and three different funding districts in place.
The measure proposes streamlining that to one. Noonan said this would save the department almost $800,000 a year in spending.
One reason the single funding measure did not pass in 2006, according to Webbe, is there was no public educational process. This time, however, the district is working to explain why, where and what the measure will cover.
Noonan looks forward to the opportunity to speak with city residents about the ballot measure. Not only is his department tasked with garnering local support, it also needs to convince voters to mail in their ballots by Nov. 1.
Nevertheless, Noonan said he and other firefighters are prepared to fight the good fight. After all, they are used to taking the heat. “Who else is going to be walking into the fire, when everyone else would walk out?” Noonan said.

For more information, go to and search “vote,” or go to and “Elections and Voting” appears in the center of the page.