Fire district

City of Durango voters have a chance to straighten out a confusing mess and ensure for themselves continued fire protection and emergency services going forward by voting “yes” on Ballot Question 2A. And it will not cost them a dime.

Durango Fire & Rescue Authority was formed in 2002 by combining the fire-and-rescue resources of the city of Durango with those of the Animas and Hermosa Cliff fire protection districts. The resultant economies and efficiencies have contributed to better service.

The problem has been the funding mechanisms and the resultant duplication of governance. The Animas and Hermosa Cliff fire districts are funded through property taxes. Durango pays for its fire and rescue service – as it does almost everything – with sales-tax revenue.

The idea had been to establish the Durango Fire Protection District with a uniform property tax rate, which would then fund Durango Fire & Rescue Authority. The voters did approve the creation of the district, in 2006, but rejected the property tax component – in 2006 and again in 2011 – because it would have meant a hefty tax increase for in-town property owners. The voters felt that was particularly objectionable in that the added tax would have funded a service for which those voters were already paying.

With that, Durango Fire and Rescue Authority has continued to function as one unified fire department, but with overlapping and duplicative governing boards, and three different funding streams.

Ballot Question 2A is part of an attempt to straighten that out – without taxing anyone unfairly. The basic idea is for the city to withdraw from Durango Fire & Rescue Authority and then contract with it for fire and rescue services for 15 years. The authority, which would then consist of the old Animas and Hermosa Cliff districts would establish a uniform property tax. Durango would pay a fee equal to what that same property tax rate would generate if it had been applied to property in the city – except, of course, that it would come from the city’s sales-tax revenue.

It sounds more complicated than it is, and, in fact, would simplify things greatly by reducing the number of governing boards to one. It would also add considerable stability and predictability to the entire enterprise. With a 15-year contract, the city and the fire district will have a clear understanding of what to expect with predictable cost for the city and dependable revenue for the district.

The solution offered by Ballot Question 2A lacks the simplicity of forming one district with one board and one tax. But history and circumstance do not favor that solution and the fix offered in 2A is workable. More to the point, it offers a greatly improved structure, one that should contribute to good fire and rescue service. And again, there is no tax increase involved.

Vote “yes” on Ballot Question 2A.

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