Featured, Sherrie Peif, Uncategorized, Weld County

City of Evans considers defunding local fire district; 17 percent of operating budget at risk

EVANS — Just days after a home explosion in Evans that killed one, injured two others and required the assistance of two neighboring fire districts to extinguish, Complete Colorado has learned that the Evans City Council is considering defunding the Evans Fire Protection District by as much as 17 percent of its operating budget.

According to those inside the fire district, the action would severely cripple an agency that is already understaffed by one firefighter and one captain, as well as in need of new equipment to serve the growing Northern Colorado community that abuts to Greeley on the south. According to census information, Evans is home to 7,000 households and nearly 21,000 residents. It is also home to several schools within Greeley-Evans School District 6, the state’s 13th largest school district.

Additionally, the president of the fire district told Complete Colorado that this will cause the district to suffer in existing capabilities.

“This will set us back to where we were 10 years ago,” said Mary Achziger, president of the fire district. “It will stop all capital improvement funds, there will be no pay raises or benefits for existing firefighters, and it will stop progress on all expansion.”

Achziger added that Evans firefighting staff is already below market pay. Complete Colorado reached out to Evans City Manager Jim Becklenberg for comment and had not heard back by press time.

That expansion, Achziger said, is much needed in a community that has grown by 15 percent in the 10 years since the formation of the district, equating to more calls that include everything from fires to auto accidents to illnesses, along with other services provided by the district.

The fire district, which covers a community predominately made up of retired homeowners, low-income housing and rental units, is unlikely to be successful if it were to ask voters for a mill levy increase to replace the funds, Achziger said.

The district had been saving for an additional station and staff on the west side of town near the intersection of 37th Street and 65th Avenue, but that will not move forward if the city council moves forward on the defunding.

Prior to 2010, the city of Evans fully staffed its own fire department under the direction of the city manager. In 2011, voters agreed to release Evans from its responsibility to supply fire services in exchange for a special taxing district.

As part of that initial agreement — and vote — Evans transferred all real property pertaining to fire suppression and 10 mills of its then mill levy allotment to the fire district and created an agreement that it would fund the district an additional $500,000 per year in exchange for city-specific services from the district, such as fire suppression, firefighter presence at community events and CPR and first-aid training for city employees.

The agreement was reached becuase the city does not pay property taxes and, therefore, the district could recoup the cost of covering the city’s needs.

It was during investigation into 2022 budgets that Complete Colorado found executive session topics on agendas for both the city and fire district outlining “negotiations,” surrounding the agreement.

Further review found a public PowerPoint slide from the city’s Aug. 17 work session covering the budget that outlined the “net results if fire district contribution discontinued,” resulting in a $500,000 increase in revenue for the city beginning in 2022.

Page 7 of the original service plan states the city can only defund the fire district after negotiations break down and the city formally votes to move forward with the defunding process, and it begins the year following the vote, in this case 2022 if the city acts before Dec. 31.

“If the city couldn’t afford to run a fire department 10 years ago, they definitely can’t now,” Achziger said. “That’s how important the fire district is to the city. Ten years ago, the voters said this is how we want it.”

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