Center Fire Protection District examines boundaries

CENTER — The Saguache County Commissioners attended the Center Fire Protection District regular meeting on March 14 to discuss protection west of La Garita.

When flames erupt outside a fire protection district, volunteers arrive from multiple directions to put them out. EMS technicians and firefighters from Center routinely respond to calls outside the designated service area, and crews from other districts do the same to fulfill urgent duties.

Board President Arthur Holland started the meeting by welcoming the commissioners for a discussion about a potential firehouse in the La Garita area. Residents met earlier this year to provide their input about the idea. Providing funding, however, likely requires a mill levy increase.

According to district Secretary Kim Schuett, the Center Fire Department was formed in 1941, but 28 years passed before they created the Fire Protection District. The current district mill levy is 4.924 mills. Building a new firehouse in La Garita would require a significant increase.

Current producers with multiple circles pay commercial taxes, and a new facility on the western flank of the Valley would require paying more to receive the same service. On the other hand, residents in the unprotected areas west of La Garita pay fire insurance premiums or are uninsured and risk losing everything to a fire.

Commissioner Lynne Thompson summarized the proposal to the fire district, a consideration for using 10 acres of county-owned land and significant funding.

“We had a public meeting about all this,” she said. “But it seems like the firehouse won’t be sustainable for the county to run it, and it won’t be sustainable for you unless you consider expanding your fire district and getting the mill levy.”

The board agreed. As Schuett explained, “The landowners have to sign a petition that they would like to be included. You have to do inclusions to the district, and it has to go through district court. You also have to do exclusions too, and the court decides.”

In addition, building a firehouse alone is not enough to ensure protection. Storing a truck in La Garita does no good without two firefighters — at a minimum — required to run it.

John and Cydni Drake, the owners of Farm Service Center Co., had suggestions. John was a former president of the Rio Grande Fire Protection District who recalled receiving help through a partnership with the Colorado State Forest Service (CSFS). By housing a state forest truck in South Fork, they could use the firetruck in exchange for helping with forest fires. Drake encouraged board members to contact the CSFS for support.

“We need fire protection,” Drake said. “But it’s not fair for us to depend on Center or Del Norte and not have any contribution to the cause.”

The board discussed next steps, which would come in the form of residents organizing a petition drive if they want to be included in the district. The process then continues through district court.

Board member Craig Perrin agreed to serve another four years, so the board passed a motion to cancel the election scheduled for May 2. The next monthly board meeting is scheduled for April 11 at 8 p.m. at the firehouse.