Building is slated to be rebuilt in 2026 but there is no plan to pay for it. Finding funding could spur district governance change.
As the city of Steamboat Springs is building a new fire station as part of its new downtown campus, the station on the other side of town is being described by Fire Chief Chuck Cerasoli as in “dire need of replacement.”
Replacing the Mountain Fire Station is in the department’s strategic plan to happen in 2026. That said, the oversight committee guiding that plan has discussed whether that timeframe still makes sense because there is no funding allocated and no plan to find any.
“There’s no budget for it, there’s no funds committed to it through the (capital improvements plan),” Cerasoli told City Council on Tuesday.
There’s no doubt grants in some form will be part of how the new fire station is funded, but it won’t get close to covering the total cost. That cost is not estimated in the strategic plan, but the city just had to pay $1,100 a square foot for the downtown station resulting in a $20 million building. To add to the shopping list, the strategic plan calls for roughly $4 million in capital spending on new or refurbished fire apparatus between 2024 and 2029.
The operating budget of the fire department as a whole is expected to grow significantly in the coming years, jumping from about $7.5 million in 2023 to more than $12.6 by 2029.
This has fire department leaders contemplating significant changes to the current governance structure, a conversation that Cerasoli said would likely heat up in 2024.
“We have been catching up with the fast pace of growth in this community for a long time,” Cerasoli said. “It’s not only growth, the demand for service has changed. … We believe that proper funding would require a different governance as we move forward into the future.”
Construction on a new downtown fire station should wrap up next year. That ends a project that saw the cost increase 21% from initial estimates to final cost to build numbers, increases that resulted in the city paying a larger share for the new station than outlined in its intergovernmental agreement with the Steamboat Springs Area Fire Protection District.
That agreement is the governance structure for the district that could be seeing changes. Currently, the city pays 73% of operational costs and 67% of capital costs, with the rest coming from the district. The fire district collects its funding through property taxes, while the city’s share largely comes from the sales tax-supported general fund. City residents do pay a 2 mill property tax for EMS service, while outlying residents pay about 9.5 mills to the fire district.
The strategic plan contemplates a unified Fire District or Fire Authority, though it doesn’t go into detail of what that could look like. In a response to questions from Council Member Dakotah McGinlay, Cerasoli wrote that merging the Steamboat Springs Fire Department with another county fire district could be an option as well.
Cerasoli said changing governance of the fire department has been coming up more frequently in the last year, but the discussion was put off during the Brown Ranch Annexation process. That conversation is set to start in earnest at the start of 2024 with details of potential changes coming to Council next summer or fall.
What about Brown Ranch?
The district plans to add another fire station as part of the Brown Ranch, but there is identified funding for at least part of that project.
According to the Brown Ranch Annexation Agreement, 75% of the cost for this new station will be paid by the Yampa Valley Housing Authority, likely with short-term rental tax revenue. That station is being called a public safety facility, as a section of the space is for the Steamboat Springs Police Department.
The annexation agreement outlines that land in the area of Neighborhood A will be conveyed for the station. When the Brown Ranch has 740 units, YVHA will need to pay for 75% of the new fire station. YVHA is also paying for 78% of the total cost of new apparatus at the Brown Ranch Station. All start up costs for the police service in the Brown Ranch have been allocated to YVHA.
This cost share was determined by looking at current call data and estimating how many of the calls for this station would serve the Brown Ranch directly and how many would serve the current city limits or other areas in the fire district. Under the current IGA, the rest of the cost would be shared between the city and district, though that could change before Brown Ranch becomes a factor.
Per the current IGA, the city would pay about 17% of the total cost of the new station and the district would pay about 8%.
Operational expenses for the new stations are planned for as well. In the annexation agreement, YVHA agreed to reimburse the city for operational expenses on a per unit, per year basis. This roughly $1,200 per unit, per year fee is adjusted each year according to inflation.
Brown Ranch Annexation was approved by Council, but petitioners were successful in their effort to get signatures to force Council to reconsider. Based on a conversation Tuesday, a special election to decide the fate of the current annexation plan could happen in late March or early April.
Top Photo Caption: The Steamboat Springs Mountain Fire Station is described as in "dire need of replacement." (City of Steamboat Springs/Courtesy)