debt, Featured, Local, Sherrie Peif, Weld County

City of Evans says decade-old fire district now self sufficient, ready to go on its own

EVANS — Officials in the City of Evans say their plan to stop contributing to the Evans Fire Protection District is not a complete abandonment, but rather a way to fulfill the original intent of a 10-year-old intergovernmental agreement.

“The fire district has come a long way,” said Evans City Manager Jim Becklenberg. “They have strong revenues — a couple years a million dollars more per year than they are spending — that has fueled the growth of a healthy fund balance of $5.1 million.”

While Becklenberg said he didn’t want to sound like he was telling the fire district how to budget its money, he believes its current condition is a strong indicator of a healthy sustainable fire district.

“Especially given the information we had from the assessor that property taxes from the city are going to be higher than we projected,” said Becklenberg.

Becklenberg spoke to Complete Colorado the day after it published a story that the city planned to defund the district by as much as 17 percent of its operating budget.

The Northern Colorado municipality that abuts to Greeley on the south 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.

Prior to 2010, 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 about $500,000 per year in exchange for its own needs from the district, such as fire suppression, personnel at community events and CPR and first-aid training for city employees.

The agreement was reached since 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.

Complete Colorado was unable to reach Becklenberg for comment initially.

Becklenberg said the original agreement gave the city the ability to stop the payments with a vote of the council after attempting negotiations and giving the fire district 60 days notice. The first year the contributions would halt is 2023, if it is voted on before Dec. 31 of this year.

“We have a lot of similar long-range questions and uncertainties,” Becklenberg said about the city budget. “We are just starting to plan a new police station. It’s in our preliminary planning because we know we can’t right now.”

Becklenberg said when the city looks at the fire district’s budget, it’s thought to be self-sufficient and should look to financing new stations and equipment rather than paying cash.

“In our context, that is something that’s not realistic for the city,” Becklenberg said. “It’s like a house. You have to find a way to pay for it over time. You can’t pay cash.”

Becklenberg said he does believe the city would be open to possibly compromising on paying for those services the city receives from the fire district outside of the standard fire suppression.

“We certainly want to pay our share,” he said.

He also said the city is willing to negotiate something that would return to helping the fire district if it were to get into trouble in the future.

But negotiations to this point have not produced much compromise, both sides said.

“We’re pretty far apart on how were seeing the numbers,” he said. “We’ve had some counters back and forth, such as can the city shift from an ongoing funding source to more of a safety net if the district finds itself in financial distress? If its ever in a jam, we’ll be there.”

Becklenberg said he understands with the growth occurring as it has, the fire district needing a new fire station and added staff, the city needing a new police station and added staff, the school district about to ask for a mill levy increase continuation and all the new taxes put in place by the state legislature, it’s just not feasible for everyone to go to the voters and ask for more money, so he’s hoping the two entities can reach an agreement.

“We have had such a great strong partnership over the last 10 years, and the district has done very well operationally and financially. We are trying to come up with next generation of agreement,” Becklenberg said. “This agreement has served us well for the first 10 years. Now let’s work on what the next 10 years look like as the city continues the partnership with a fully functioning more mature fire district.”

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