Voters approved a mill levy increase for the Dolores Fire Protection District by a large margin in Tuesday’s election.
A request to increase the mill levy from 6 mills to 10 mills passed with 569 (70%) voting yes and 247 (30%) voting no.
The 4 mill increase will generate $225,000 to $250,000 per year and be used to help finance worn out fire trucks, a new substation and firefighter equipment.
“It’s very much appreciated, and nice to know we have the support of the community,” said Dolores Fire Chief Mike Zion. “This will help us move into the future.”
Also, three board members who were uncontested were voted in for three-year terms. They are: Shawna Valdez (651 votes), Kirk Swope (605 votes) and DeWayne Findley (506 votes).
Of the 2,861 ballots sent out, 831 were returned, election officials said, a 30% turnout.
Equipment that needs to be replaced includes a 38-year-old equipment truck and a 46-year-old tanker truck, then a 32-year old fire engine. Total estimated costs for replacement is $930,000 to $1.4 million.
“They have been overhauled many times and are worn out. They can be difficult to start,” Zion said.
Updating equipment helps keep the community safe, he said, and the additional funding will be used for firefighter training and recruitment.
The improved budget will help with wildfire mitigation projects, firefighter gear and repairing the equipment station roof.
Another goal, thanks to the successful election, is to begin researching areas to build a substation on Colorado Highway 145 to improve services for nearby residents.
The Dolores Fire District in northeastern Montezuma County stretches for 32 miles up the Dolores River to the county line at the Montelores Bridge. The number of residents, and subsequently, emergency calls, have been increasing along the highway corridor, including vehicle crashes, medical calls, river rescues, floods and wildfires.
“Another benefit for all district residents is when we modernize our fire equipment, it keeps our ISO rating low, which helps to keep insurance down for homeowners and businesses,” Zion said.
The Insurance Services Offices rates fire districts between 1 and 10 to determine rates, with 1 representing the highest fire safety service possible, and 10 being the worst.
Dolores Fire has a level 3 rating, a high assessment for a rural volunteer department, Zion said, and it has kept the good rating for 22 years.
The district is operated by 18 trained, unpaid volunteers. It covers 366 square miles and serves 3,958 residences. It has a main station in the town of Dolores and two substations.
Zion said he wants to recruit more volunteers, with a goal of 25-30 firefighters, and the extra funding will help with their training costs.
The Dolores Fire Protection District mill levy was at 8.95 in 1998, but had dropped to 6 mills as a result of the ratcheting down effect of the Gallagher Amendment and Taxpayer Bill of Rights Amendment.
Because of the drop in the mill levy, after operating costs the district has insufficient funds to replace worn out equipment, Zion said, and there is not enough to provide matching funds for grants.
The district has a yearly budget of $328,000, and with $275,000 in operating costs. The remaining goes toward training and equipment.
In 2018 the district responded to 420 calls for service, up from 350 in 2017. It responds to vehicle crashes, structure fires, wildfires, medical calls, hazardous material spills and rescues on the Dolores River and McPhee Reservoir.