Delta Fire District condemns shakedown by DURA
By Delbert Myers
Published Thursday, September 28, 2017 7:58 am
The Delta County Fire Protection District #1 condemns the actions of the Delta Urban Renewal Authority (DURA). DURA, which is nothing more than a cash-grabbing front for the City of Delta, is aggressively siphoning tax dollars from special districts to fund the development of a proposed, high-end riverfront hotel -- all without a public mandate. Furthermore, DURA's decision to move forward with mediation will do nothing but place more costs upon beleaguered Delta taxpayers to cover the legal fees incurred by arbitration. As with other special districts, the fire district operates on a fixed budget. However, unlike other districts, we can't adjust our fees or rates to compensate for increased costs, because we do not collect fees for our services. All we have is our mill levy. Our mill levy was actually voted upon and approved by you the citizens, which grants our district the public mandate necessary to collect those funds that we carefully manage.
We cannot say the same about DURA, which has never been approved by voters. Instead, DURA hides behind antiquated state law that provides it with a disproportionate amount of authority to misappropriate money from taxpayers. These very same taxpayers most likely intended their dollars to be used for fire protection -- not a multimillion dollar handout to a developer.
This entire ordeal puts taxpayers in double jeopardy. As DURA imposes mediation on our districts, they force taxpayers to subsidize the legal fees on both sides of the equation. As of the publishing of this letter, DURA -- which has been fronted money by the City of Delta and the Department of Local Affairs--has spent over $70,000 on legal fees. The board recently approved a contract extension with its existing legal representation to the tune of $36,000 over the next six months. These fees do not include the cost of mediation, which will cost $15,000 per mediation session per client. That means about $60,000 in costs ($15k for the Fire District, $15k for Mosquito District, and $30k for DURA) -- all of which does not include the cost of legal representation that is needed to effectively fight this shakedown.
Even if DURA successfully receives all the money "needed" through arbitration for their riverfront hotel project (which we have all learned that there is "no Plan B" if this plan fails), the new development will incur new costs upon our district and taxpayers without any promise of increased revenue. Depending on the size of this new hotel it could force the fire district to purchase a new ladder truck that could cost the district upwards of a million dollars. This is money that the fire district just does not have. Increased tourist traffic along the river means new specialized training and equipment for river rescues will be required. All of these incurred costs will place an undue burden upon our district, and force our organization to either 1) cut our budget (which will put volunteers and public safety at risk) or 2) ask for more money through mill levy increases (which will upset the already overburdened taxpayers).
The unanticipated costs of DURA also raise questions about the future solvency of the organization and the special districts. What happens to the future tax base for all these districts, and how will TABOR impact them? Will districts have to go to the voters to further "de-Bruce" our mill levies? What does that cost the public to do so? What happens if DURA defaults on its bonds? Who foots that bill: DURA, the City, the special districts, bond holders or all of the above? Ultimately, the taxpayer will foot the bill for all of these uncertainties.
As a fire district, we operate with the lowest mill levy in the county and one of the lowest in the state. Yet we have not had to de-Bruce like other districts and we have always been under TABOR limits. Also, since the district was formed we have never had to go to the voters for a mill levy increase. That in itself should prove that the fire district has managed your tax dollars properly and that is why the district is fighting for your tax dollars to be used for what they were intended for and that is for fire protection.
We encourage all concerned citizens to please contact DURA's board today. Call or email your city council representative and city manager David Torgler at 874-7566 to express your frustration. Attend the next DURA board meeting and demand to speak. Tell DURA that it is time to cut their losses and stop the mediation process now.
On behalf of the board of directors for Delta County Fire Protection District #1