The Cortez Fire Protection District is requesting a 3.5-mill increase in its funding because we are unable to continue providing our community with the level of service we currently provide with the funds we are receiving.
Four years ago, the chief of the volunteer department came to the board and informed us that we were having great difficulties in providing basic services under the volunteer system. Soon after, the district hired a paid chief to set up a system to ensure a responsive, highly trained and certified, quick-responding fire and rescue service. Today the district has a full time chief, assistant chief and three firemen in the station 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
All of this was done with no increase in funding from the taxpayers in this district, but rather by using some of the reserve funds that were in place and the funds that were being paid to the volunteer department.
The district does currently have approximately $1.5 million in reserves that are allocated in four separate funds. The building improvement fund has a balance of $300,000, the fire equipment fund has a balance of $275,696, the apparatus replacement fund balance is $350,000 (actual cost of a new fire engine is approximately $500,000) and the operational contingency fund is $600,000.
In regard to the pension fund being funded $72,000 less than a year ago, that is correct. The pension fund is responsible for payments to retired volunteers. At this time, that fund has a balance over $1.8 million. The six years I have been on this board, it has increased more than $650,000 dollars. The 2012 budget for the pension fund also shows an increase in value. As for it being underfunded, I would have doubts of that since from the year 2000 to 2008, George McCutcheon was on the board and he voted 3 times to increase the retirement benefit for an additional increase in payout of over $150 per month.
You, the taxpayers of this district, now have a choice to make: to go forward with a more responsive, better trained group of professional firefighters, or return to less. The decision you make is important. It affects all of us. Please do what is best for our community. As a citizen and business owner in this community, please join me in voting yes for the 3.5-mill increase.
James W. Bridgewater is president of the board of directors of the Cortez Fire Protection District.