Voters on Tuesday night approved extending a property tax that will help fund a new fire station and urgent care clinic in the heart of Bayfield.
Election results showed 71% of voters in support of Ballot Issue 7A compared to 29% of voters who opposed it. The Upper Pine district stretches partly into Archuleta County. Only eight Archuleta County residents cast ballots in the Upper Pine race, and all eight were in favor of the tax increase.
Upper Pine Fire Chief Bruce Evans said the fire district has been saving money and offsetting the cost of new vehicles with grant money for eight to 10 years to make the dual fire and urgent care station a reality.
“The fire district has its marching orders from the public, and now the hard work begins to make this a reality,” Evans said. “It is important now to make sure we are good stewards of their tax dollars.”
Ballot Issue 7A asked voters to extend a 20-year property tax that is due to expire in 2024. The 1.46 mills amount to almost $50 per year on a $500,000 home, based on current values.
According to the plan pitched to voters, the dual fire station and urgent care clinic calls for five bays, living quarters, administrative offices, a health clinic and a community room.
It will be located on a 2-acre lot at 297 Bayfield Center Drive, just north of the Eight Corners intersection at U.S. Highway 160 and County Road 501.
In a previous interview, Evans estimated the fire station will cost $15 million, but he said the price tag is difficult to pinpoint because of fluctuating construction costs. The fire district already owns the property.
Upper Pine River Fire Protection District voters who supported the property tax said the fire department has served the community well, and it is important to maintain that level of service and improve existing infrastructure in a growing community.
“My fire department is a top priority in my eyes,” said DJ Lybarger, who lives in the Forest Lakes subdivision. “They take care of us and I need to take care of them – make sure they have everything they need to make sure we are all safe.”
He said he is a longtime resident in the Upper Pine district and remembers everything firefighters did to save Forest Lakes during the 2002 Missionary Ridge Fire.
Becky Kecman, another Forest Lakes resident, said her husband works as a wildland firefighter in the Vallecito area, and Upper Pine has always been a good partner to those crews.
“It was pretty easy for me to support it,” she said. “I know that they’ve had a lot of internal turmoil, but overall, I think they’re a great program and they do a lot for the community.”
She noted that a “yes” vote does not increase her property taxes. Yet, she was unsure how much she could have saved per year as a property owner had the ballot issue failed.
“We can afford what we’re paying now, and so it seemed appropriate to keep supporting them if we can,” Kecman said.
Bayfield resident Vaughn Morris said public agencies need to be upfront with voters and ask for what they need to achieve their objectives.
Morris described himself as “one of those crazy people” who is willing to raise taxes to support services. But it frustrates him when public agencies don’t ask for enough money to achieve their stated goals and then have to return to voters for more money.
He said he is a huge supporter of the Upper Pine fire department – saying, “I don’t want my house to burn down” – but he doesn’t think Upper Pine asked for enough money to achieve its goal.
He declined to say how he voted on Ballot Issue 7A.
Evans said the existing bond will expire in 2024 and the extended property tax will go into effect in 2025. He said the dual fire station and urgent care is a big project that requires long-range planning.
“The fire district is grateful for the financial support,” Evans said. “I am grateful for the public’s trust and confidence.”