The Upper Pine River Fire Protection District is asking voters this November to extend a property tax that is set to expire in 2024 so it can build a new fire station and urgent care clinic in the heart of Bayfield.
The fire department has already purchased a 2-acre lot at 297 Bayfield Center Drive, which is on the northeast corner of a traffic circle near the Eight Corners intersection at U.S. Highway 160 and County Road 501.
The idea is to partner with Durango Urgent Care to attach a clinic that would be staffed with a nurse, community paramedic, physicians and support staff depending on the time of day, said Bruce Evans, chief of Upper Pine fire department.
“This is going to be a locally owned, locally accountable organization that is going to be providing medical care to people. And that, I think, is a big selling point,” Evans said. “When it comes to some of these minor emergency things, there's a more cost-effective way to do it.”
The clinic would offer telehealth services, which allows community members to consult with health care providers without having to travel for in-person office visits.
Such visits are often accomplished through a video conferencing setup that allows a nurse or community paramedic to operate digital otoscopes and stethoscopes to examine ears, eyes, throats and heartbeats while a doctor looks on from a remote location.
“It will be great care at a fraction of the cost of an emergency room visit,” said Bryan Vincent, with Durango Urgent Care, in a news release.
Bayfield has one or two primary care providers in town. Yet, it is not uncommon for Upper Pine EMS crews to provide a level of health care for residents, Evans said. It makes sense to build a facility in which Upper Pine EMS crews and health care providers work in close quarters and under the same roof, he said.
“There's kind of an intersection of EMS and public health that has been developing in this country for about the last five years where the community paramedics are filling the gap when people can't get access to a primary provider,” Evans said.
The fire district is asking residents to approve Ballot Issue 7A, which would essentially extend a property tax that voters approved 20 years ago.
The 1.46 mills would amount to almost $50 per year on a $500,000 home, based on current values.
“We're just asking to keep the same amount in that bond for the next 20 years,” Evans said. “The 7A initiative very specifically says that it's for capital improvement projects, so it's not money that will pay for things like salaries or benefits or more people.”
He said the bond extension should pay for the majority of the fire station and urgent care clinic. Other revenue streams to support the station include rent from Durango Urgent Care and the fire department’s general operating funds, he said.
Evans said he considers the joint building to be “critical infrastructure” for the Pine River Valley, serving Bayfield, north to Vallecito, east to Yellow Jacket and west to the district’s border with Durango.
“It's a critical piece of infrastructure that the town and the Pine River Valley will be able to count on for the next seventy years,” Evans said.
The building would include four bays for fire and EMS equipment. It would be able to house up to 10 people with separate quarters for urgent care and firefighting personnel.
Evans estimated it would cost $15 million, but cautioned it is difficult to put a cost figure on new construction at this time.
“If for some reason there was a life-threatening emergency in the clinic, the clinic would be able to ring up the paramedics from next door and the firefighters from next door to come over and assist,” he said. “It's just a really good synergy, I think, between urgent care and the fire district.”
Evans said Bayfield is primed for a growth boom, with hundreds of new homes in the pipeline. Part of the overall well-being and desirability of a community depends on whether it has critical infrastructure in place, he said.
“I see probably in the next five years Bayfield doubling in size,” Evans said. “I think it's a function of other areas of Durango being built out. There's not a lot of property to build on anymore that already has infrastructure.”
The fire department would like to begin construction on Station 61 in spring 2024. The department has already gone through a design process and held community meetings about its plans, Evans said.
He said it has been a five-year endeavor to replace a station that was never designed to house full-time firefighters.
“So far, we've gotten nothing but absolutely positive feedback,” he said.