The November ballot will contain a question from Delta County Fire Protection District #1, which covers the Delta area, seeking its first mill levy increase since the fire district was organized in 1944.
The mill levy is currently 3.17 mills, reduced from the original 5.0 mills as a result of "ratcheting down" provisions in the Taxpayers Bill of Rights (TABOR). If the 1.8 mill increase is approved, the fire district's total property tax would be slightly less than the 5.0 mills previously authorized by voters.
Property tax collections would increase an estimated $210,000 annually. According to figures provided by the fire district, the increase amounts to $1 per month for every $100,000 of residential property, and $4.35 per month for every $100,000 of commercial property.
A second ballot question asks voters to exempt the fire district from TABOR revenue and spending limitations.
A "factual summary" recently mailed to electors within the special district outlines the fire district board's three-year strategic plan, which calls for: a) constructing living quarters for firefighters at the existing station; b) hiring the fire district's first two paid firefighters; and c) building and equipping two substations. According to the summary, the additional staffing, facilities and equipment will significantly improve the quality of service, cut response times and reduce the fire district's ISO rating, which could reduce insurance costs for home and business owners.
Adam Suppes, a former firefighter who now serves as chairman of the fire board, explains the reasoning behind the three-year strategic plan.
He says a growing call volume is straining the all-volunteer crew of 26. "A big majority of our volunteers have 8 to 5 jobs, and our pool is just not big enough to provide weekday response," he explained.
The board believes the answer is hiring two paid firefighters to cover those weekday calls.
Suppes said about half the department's calls are minor fender benders, carbon monoxide/smoke alarms, fluid clean-ups, small brush fires and other incidents that can be handled by two firemen and one truck.
To continue that coverage 24/7, volunteers would be assigned to cover night and weekend shifts from the fire station, with the goal of reducing response times and volunteer callouts.
When asked about firefighter response to this proposal, Suppes said most volunteers recognize they'll be at home or at work more often, because they won't be called out for every incident. The call for additional support will go out only when warranted.
To accommodate 24/7 coverage, living quarters will be added to the fire station at the corner of 5th and Grand. The building already contains a small kitchen, bathrooms and showers.
To further reduce response time, the fire district proposes two substations to meet ISO and National Fire Protection Association standards of a station within five road miles of every structure. Suppes said a consultant has identified two broad areas -- east of Delta in the neighborhood of 2000/2100 and F roads, and west of the city somewhere near D Road and Highway 348.
Volunteer firefighters living in those areas would be able to deploy more quickly than if they have to drive in to town, grab a truck and gear, and head back to the incident.
With these measures in place, Suppes said the board believes the average response time of 12.4 minutes can be cut by 4.5 to 5 minutes.
In addition to fire suppression, the volunteers are trained to handle rescues, extrications and hazardous materials.