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Nervous Fire Departments In High Country As Election Day Nears

FRISCO, Colo. (CBS4) - It's just a week from Election Day and there are nervous firefighters in the high country as at least four fire districts are asking for a tax increase.

When the bubble burst and property values plummeted, especially in resort communities, it took a few years, but fire districts saw their budgets drastically reduced.

Lake Dillon Fire Rescue had to cut $1.2 million last year alone, and the Eagle River Fire Protection District says if they don't get a tax increase, they'll likely close some stations.

"That's really the ballot issue, 'Do you want your neighborhood station open with firefighters able to respond, or is that an acceptable risk you're willing to take as a homeowner?' " said John McCalley, Eagle River Fire Protection District board member.

Things are dire for the district. Covering a majority of central Eagle County, the fire district has seen a 25 percent cut in its budget already with more predicted. It's asking voters to approve a $1.7 million mill levy increase.

"Hardly a day goes by now that we're not closing at least one station, and in many cases we're closing two," Eagle River Fire Protection District Chief Karl Bauer said.

Without overtime pay in the budget, whenever a firefighter is sick or injured, whole stations close down.

"There have been times we've had major fires and we haven't had all of our stations open," Bauer said. "We've had to call in extra mutual aid, which places a greater strain on the system."

That was the case on May 13 during a fiery traffic accident along Interstate 70.

But Eagle River isn't alone. At least three other districts in resort communities hit hard by the housing bubble are asking for tax increases.

Fire Tax Increases
(credit: CBS)

"Like many places throughout the high country we saw a pretty steep drop off in property values; 2009, 2010, 2011," Steve Lipsher with Lake Dillon Fire Rescue said.

Lake Dillon Fire Rescue is asking for about $500,000 in new taxes.

"We're going to have to make another cut again this year if we don't have the approval from our voters," Lipsher said.

Lake Dillon says the mill levy increase equates out to about $2 a month for an average home in Summit County.

Eagle River is obviously different. There's an argument being made that if some of the stations need to close down, property owners will see an increase in insurance rates


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