In an effort to put out some figurative fires in Trailmark, city council has approved an agreement to pay West Metro Fire District to serve Littleton’s Jefferson County subdivision north of Chatfield.
Littleton Fire Chief John Mullin says the cost is still being negotiated, but the contract says it will be equivalent to the mill levy Trailmark would pay if it were actually in the West Metro district. In 2011, Trailmark was valuated at about $26 million. With a mill levy of 12.382, it would have generated nearly $317,000.
“This is an issue that gives me a lot of heartburn,” said Councilor Jim Taylor, noting that the money will come out of the city’s general fund to benefit just one neighborhood. “It really rubs me wrong to have to do that.”
He acknowledged that it’s cheaper than $2 million to build a new station at Trailmark plus the $2 million a year it would cost to staff.
Councilor Bruce Beckman agreed with Taylor, but noted the agreement includes use of West Metro’s training facility. With the closure of the Littleton/Englewood facility necessitated by new, stricter regulations on its impact on the South Platte River, that’s a big bonus.
“As expensive as it is, I think it’s part of our obligation,” said Beckman.
At a minimum, the agreement should solve the problem of skyrocketing insurance rates for Trailmark residents. In 2011, the Insurance Services Office reclassified the area from a 3 to a 9, with 10 being the worst, sending rates soaring by up to 90 percent. That translated into each homeowner paying $600-$800 more a year.
ISO uses criteria such as personnel, equipment and location of fire stations, with the latter being the issue for Trailmark. ISO requires the closest station to be no more than five miles away by road, but the closest LFR station is six miles.
West Metro Fire actually has one closer, but Littleton has been responsible for the service since it annexed Trailmark in 1991. The city used to have a free automatic-aid agreement with West Metro, but the department canceled all such agreements due to budgetary concerns.
It remains to be seen whether the agreement will solve what everyone agrees are slow response times to Trailmark, historically nearly double what they are to the rest of the city. The issue came to the forefront after a Christmas 2003 fire destroyed an entire Star Canyon condo building.
When ISO downgraded Littleton Fire, Councilman Bruce Stahlman suggested that any solution would be likely to increase property taxes in the whole city. LFR is currently sustained solely by sales tax; there are no retail businesses in Trailmark. LFR’s partners, Littleton Fire Protection District and Highlands Ranch Metro District, avail themselves of mill levies.
Adding to the mix are discussions on the possibility of merging Littleton and Englewood’s departments. Both councils are weighing options ranging from doing nothing to forming a new fire authority. It’s possible a change would require initial cost outlays or raising taxes for the long term.
Mayor Debbie Brinkman congratulated Mullin on finalizing the agreement with West Metro.
“It’s been a long process from a huge ‘no’ that was coming from West Metro to get to collaboration,” she said.