A community discussion at the Orchard City Town Board's November meeting raised differences between trustees and their constituents about the town's plan to contribute money and facilities to Delta County Fire Protection District #3.
The fire district is a taxing entity with its own revenue base for providing capital needs.
But some are asking if Orchard City should help the district meet those capital needs from the town's revenues.
Why should Orchard City pay extra for fire protection services that benefit others who don't have to pay extra for them? That was the question posed to the town trustees on Nov. 13.
The discussion was prompted by a request from Delta County Fire District #3 that the town provide housing for a new fire truck in the town-owned Orchard City substation. The town was being asked to pay for an estimated $40,000 addition to the substation located at the town shops.
Two town residents questioned the fairness in asking the town to shoulder that cost when it will benefit surrounding, out-of-town rural residents who don't have to help pay for it in property taxes that support the district. Tom Huerkamp and Willie LaPlante pointed out that fairness would require the entire district to shoulder the cost for housing the new equipment, not just the Town of Orchard City.
Though only LaPlante and Huerkamp spoke at the meeting, Mayor Don Suppes indicated that the topic had become a town-wide topic and so was placed on the evening's agenda. "Some people are not liking the use of town dollars to add on to the substation," he said while opening the session.
Huerkamp said, "It is the fairness issue that is the critical thing." Orchard City residents pay the same district mill levy as other district residents, and they pay more dollars in taxes than Cedaredge does because of Orchard City's higher assessed valuation.
He said the district's proposal is "a one-sided arrangement. The fire district needs to look to its own obligations and not ask Orchard City to shoulder disproportionate obligations for the rest of the district."
Huerkamp was mayor several years ago when the town added to the substation at its own cost to house an additional truck. But times have changed, he explained. "If I were on the board today, I would lean towards approving it," he said. "But it's time to ask for a commitment from the fire district."
Orchard City's investment in the substation expansion "benefits all residents of district." The town derives no income from providing the space to the district. "We should receive reasonable income for our investment," he said. Suppes noted that as mayor, Huerkamp had removed a requirement that the fire district perform $1,000 worth of maintenance on the building each year.
LaPlante said, "I believe it is time for the fire district to step up. The recent election provided an opportunity to ask voters for funding a tax increase to pay for a substation. Their obligation is to at least try before coming to Orchard City (for the money)."
LaPlante offered four options for the district to pay for its substation expansion: mill levy increase, budget adjustments, grants, or a bond issue. "Its time for a permanent substation in Orchard City," he said adding that having one would attract more volunteers to the department.
Trustee Gale Doudy said, "I agree that we should ask the district for a plan that includes (facilities for) the Town of Orchard City." The town board voted unanimously to approve placing money for the substation addition in the town's 2014 budget. But there was no request that the district plan for a future district station at Orchard City.
Discussion of the issue could result in possible cost savings. Trustee Jan Gage explained that in talks with the fire district since the addition became a community topic, the cost estimate has been trimmed to $30,000. Also, the volunteer firemen, many of whom work in construction trades, have agreed to donate in-kind finish and interior work that Gage valued at $20,00 to $25,000.
Other trustees emphasized the value of improved fire protection for Orchard City residents. Both Huerkamp and LaPlante said they supported the increased fire protection. Both men emphasized that fairness was the issue, in who should be paying for the improvement.blog comments powered by Disqus