Since it was established in 1969, the North Fork Ambulance Association has been the sole provider of ambulance services to the North Fork Valley area. The volunteer-based, non-profit NFAA currently services a 1,500 square mile area encompassing portions of Delta, Gunnison and Montrose counties. It operates from stations in Paonia, Crawford and Hotchkiss. Since 1969 it has been supported through memberships, grants and donations. The association has never sought funding through taxation.
In 1974 the NFAA signed a lease agreement with the Town of Paonia on its Second Street station. The NFAA has asked the town to consider amending the lease agreement, should the non-profit become a special taxing district in the future.
The lease allowed the NFAA to expand the station, at the time was located in the old town fire station, through construction of a brick and mortar building funded by the association. The lease allows the NFAA to use the space rent-free so long as it "continues to be a solvent organization operating an emergency ambulance service to the North Fork area." The association pays all utility, maintenance and insurance costs.
The only modification requested by the association, said Mayor Charles Stewart, is a change from "North Fork Ambulance Association" to "North Fork Ambulance District."
Because it requires an increase in the property tax mill levy, the change to a taxing district requires a vote of the people. Executive director Kathy Steckel told the DCI that the NFAA is in the process of preparing service plans to submit to Delta, Gunnison and Montrose counties. If approved, a referendum creating a special taxing district would likely be on the ballot this November, said Steckel. A lease modification would be required only if the referendum passes.
Legally, it's one thing for the town to support a non-profit entity, said Stewart. "It's another thing if that entity is a taxing revenue authority and it raises revenue by taxation." If the association becomes a taxing district, then it would follow that the newly formed district would have to pay its bills just like all other taxpayer supported entities, he said.
Stewart said that proposed change by the NFAA creates "an opportunity for both parties to revisit the agreement, because, essentially, it does expire if one entity expires."
"I think it's an immense value to have this ambulance in the town of Paonia," said trustee Suzanne Watson. "The service is so much quicker for us, so it's really in our interest to keep ... them here."
The request is expected to come before the board at the April 24 public meeting.
On Tuesday, Sept. 11, the Delta County Board of Commissioners called a special meeting to consider the board's response to the Bureau of Land Management's preliminary Environmental Assessment (EA) concerning the lease parcels proposed for the December BLM sale.
Several people from the North Fork were present to provide input.