Fire authority will likely stay together

STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald
A conference call by smartphone made it difficult for the directors of the Animas Fire Protection District to communicate with those not present at the board meeting Tuesday evening at the Durango Fire & Rescue Authority station on Colorado Highway 172 just south of Elmore’s Corner. District Administrator Sandy Goodell, center, assists directors Matt Leeder, left, and Kathleen Morris. Enlarge photo

STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald A conference call by smartphone made it difficult for the directors of the Animas Fire Protection District to communicate with those not present at the board meeting Tuesday evening at the Durango Fire & Rescue Authority station on Colorado Highway 172 just south of Elmore’s Corner. District Administrator Sandy Goodell, center, assists directors Matt Leeder, left, and Kathleen Morris.

While it’s not a done deal, it appears the Animas Fire Protection District will withdraw its letter of intent to separate from Durango Fire & Rescue Authority.

The district is one of three funding partners in DFRA, with the city of Durango and the Hermosa Cliff Fire Protection District.

“I think we came out of mediation with a good understanding between the partners,” said Greg Drover, a former Animas Fire Protection District board member who represented the board in the mediation process this spring along with Tony Whittle. Neither man won re-election on May 8. “We found a lot of common ground.”

Three district board members had voted in favor of leaving DFRA in November because of disagreements over several issues, including how much Animas Fire District residents were paying compared with residents in Durango and the Hermosa district as well as a need for improved service. The hotly contested election at the beginning of May drew almost 3,000 voters to fill three seats. The top two vote-getters from a field of nine candidates were against the separation.

Claude “Bud” Deering Jr., who had voted for dissolution in November and was re-elected in the recent election with the third highest vote count, told the new board members, Matt Leeder and Kathleen Morris, they were going to have a lot of reading to get up to speed.

“Greg said the voters would tell us what they wanted by whom they voted for, and they did,” Deering said.

While Drover is no longer on the board, he attended the meeting in part to give Leeder and Morris packets of information about the mediation.

“The city is going to pay more,” Drover said. “There are three things this new board is still going to have to work on: the funding formula, a settlement agreement between all three partners, and the third leg is rewriting the Intergovernmental Agreement.”

Deering agreed, adding a caution to Leeder and Morris.

“We still have to get that IGA written,” he said.

Drover said he thought it was possible the intergovernmental agreement could be completed in about 90 days.

The meeting was held in the garage at Station No. 7 near Florida Mesa Elementary School, a change from the board’s usual meeting room at Station 1 in Bodo Industrial Park. Because the fourth member, Bill Warren, was calling in on his cellphone, and two of the district’s attorneys were also calling in, it was difficult for both the board members and the attendees to hear, so the meeting was recessed until the beginning of June.

Several of the 15 or so people in the audience spoke about the other pressing matter on the board’s upcoming agenda, the appointment of a fifth member to fill the seat left vacant when Jim Barrett stepped down.

“The prudent thing is to take the person who had the next highest number of votes,” district resident Pete Turner said, in comments echoed by several other people, about the election May 8. “In the Olympics, if a medalist is disqualified, the fourth-place finisher moves up. That seems like a reasonable approach and the right thing to do.”

The fourth-place finisher in the election was Joe Lloyd, who also opposed separation.

abutler@durangoherald.com

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