United emergency services for Crestone moves closer to being created, crucial agreements are signed

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by Akia Tanara & Sandra Hammond

April was a very productive and exciting month for the Formation Committee of the Crestone Emergency Services District and our community’s emergency responders. The Formation Committee completed the Service Plan, which is the document central to the formation process. The Boards of Northern Saguache County Fire Protection District (NSCFPD), Northern Saguache County Ambulance District (NSCAD) and Kundalini Fire Management (KFM) all signed agreements consenting to the formation of the new District and to the exclusion of overlapping properties within the new District boundaries. NSCFPD also agreed to a transfer of assets, including the Crestone Fire Department building and land. The Baca Grande Property Owners Association (POA) Board signed an agreement consenting to the formation of the District, consenting to include the Baca Grande properties in the District and agreeing, upon the vote of its membership,  to transfer, and/or lease certain assets.

These four agreements state the various parties’ intentions for the creation of a new District that will unify and consolidate the POA’s Fire and Ambulance Departments, Crestone Fire Department, Kundalini Fire Management, and the local members of Saguache County Search and Rescue, although the search & rescue service will remain as an expense for the

Sheriff’s Office and under its control.

According to research conducted by the district formation committee, unifying our emergency services into a District will have many benefits and solve numerous problems.

• CrESD will have governmental immunity, reducing liability to POA members.

• Mutual aid and Intergovernmental Agreements will remain in effect.

• The duplication of governance and administration of services will be eliminated.

• The cost of emergency services will be more equitable through a uniform property tax. Currently, owners of undeveloped land in the Baca subsidize the cost of services to owners with developed land, as they both pay the same amount in dues per lot.

• For the first time, the spiritual centers, Baca Meadows town houses, the Desert Sage, Colorado College and White Eagle Village will be included in an emergency service area.

• All fire fighters will be eligible for Public Safety Officers Benefits (pension), not available to Baca Grande fire fighters because they are not part of a District.

• Emergency dispatch services will be accessed through 911. Currently, Colorado State Patrol dispatches Baca Grande calls while the Sheriff’s Office dispatches Crestone and surrounding county calls, resulting in confusion that can delay response time.

• Emergency communications will improve with all responders using compatible radios.

• Emergency response vehicles and equipment will be uniformly maintained.

• Training schedules for fire fighters, EMS and Saguache County Search & Rescue responders will be coordinated and streamlined.

• Standardized operating guidelines will be utilized.

• Volunteer retention will improve, which is critical to the success of volunteer emergency service departments.

• Emergency preparedness education will be offered to increase our safety and self-reliance.

In order for Crestone Emergency Services District (CrESD) to be finalized, many actions still need to be taken. The POA membership will have to agree to the transfer of assets. Saguache County Commissioners and the District Judge will have to approve the District Service Plan and allow this matter to go to the electors in November 2011.  Approval for the District formation must come from the voters. Following a successful election process, NSCFPD and NSCAD will need to hold public hearings on the exclusion of overlapping territories before signing resolutions to that effect.

The District will generate funds from a uniform property tax on all properties within the service area for a total of 16 mils. The mil levy received from residents of the service area will fund the ongoing operations of CrESD, with additional funds generated from ambulance service fees, contractual agreements and grants. This mil levy will result in an increase of .489 mils for those properties currently served by Northern Saguache County Ambulance District (currently costing 7.5 mils) and the Northern Saguache County Fire Protection District (currently costing 8.011 mils). Neither the Northern Saguache County Fire Protection District nor the Northern Saguache County Ambulance District will thereafter collect any taxes from the areas now included in the new District.

Homeowners in the new District will pay more in taxes than undeveloped lot owners, as is standard across the State, because mil levies are imposed on assessed values of properties. Many homeowners in the Baca Grande will pay an increased amount for emergency services than they currently pay through POA dues. But, all property owners in the Baca Grande will have their POA dues reduced. Based on 2011 budget levels,  the POA Board anticipates that this reduction will be approximately $55 per lot. All property owners in the CrESD service area will be eligible for a real estate tax deduction from their federal income taxes.

For each property owner to understand the actual cost, they need to calculate 16 mils into dollars. This calculation is based on the “Actual Value” of each lot as determined by the County Assessor’s office and varies from lot to lot. For example:

• If an Improved Lot (with a building on it) has an Actual Value of $100,000 the calculation is: $100,000 x .0796 = $7960 x .016 = $127.36. Which means the tax on that property is $127.36. With the $55 dues reduction, and before a real estate tax deduction, this comes to $72.36.

• For an Unimproved Lot worth $5,000, the multiplier is quite different. The “Actual Value” of this land is multiplied by 0.29 and then multiplied by the mil of .016. This calculation would be: $5,000 x .29 = $1450 x .016 = $23.20. The annual tax is $23.20 with an additional savings of approximately $55 in reduced POA dues. With 3331 unimproved POA lots, many people will be saving money.

The Crestone Emergency Services District aims to provide unified, stable, high quality fire, ambulance and search & rescue services, which are indisputably critical lifelines in our isolated mountain community. In order for voters to make an informed decision about what is in the best interests of our community, the Formation Committee has launched www.crestoneemergencyservices.org and will host community events, provide news updates and distribute take-home information. The website, in addition to accurate information, will include a mil calculator and a FAQ section which will answer questions posed by community members over the coming months.

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