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The Buena Vista board of trustees approved an intergovernmental agreement between the town and Chaffee County Fire Protection District, which if approved by the CCFPD board at its meeting Wednesday evening, would make Chaffee Fire “the exclusive jurisdiction having authority to interpret and enforce the fire code adopted by the town within the town’s boundaries.”

In other words, entering into the IGA with Chaffee Fire would mean that the Buena Vista Fire Department would cease to exist as a separate entity responding to fire calls.

The IGA was drafted during a months-long process based on deliberations by the fire authority steering committee, which first met in February.

The committee was comprised of CCFPD directors Scott Leonard and Tom Navarrette, town trustees Devin Rowe and David Volpe, CCFPD fire chief Robert Bertram and Buena Vista town administrator Phillip Puckett.

The committee was formed to look at the concept of creating a distinct governmental authority over both Chaffee Fire and BV Fire, but Puckett said the group was open to all possibilities.

“It wasn’t focused on just financials or just on specific people or pieces of equipment. We were really focused on what’s the most efficient way to provide an outstanding service for our community,” Puckett said, summarizing the recommendation of the committee to trustees Monday night.

The recommendation the committee eventually presented to the board Monday was to consolidate and make Chaffee Fire the sole provider of fire protection services in the district, including the town.

“First, we definitely recognized that there’s a redundancy of resources. When you take a look at the facilities and services and personnel, there’s a lot sitting right here in a very small radius.”

The committee found that BV Fire has primarily responded to medical calls in the last 5 years, Puckett said.

“Looking at 5 years worth of data, we were really seeing 70, up to 80 percent of our call volume being response to medical calls as opposed to fire-related calls or auto accidents, things of that nature. We decided at that point to pull in Chaffee County EMS.”

Bringing Chaffee County Emergency Management Services director Josh Hadley into the discussion, the committee found that “there’s pretty minimal benefit,” Puckett said. “When you look at patient care and what’s needed on the scene, a vast majority of those medical calls didn’t have a large value-add by our team’s responding auto-aid to every single one of those calls.

“Finally, we found that Chaffee County Fire definitely has a model that is working and we believe could scale to support the town and the town’s need for services.”

In the terms of the IGA, the town would pay the fire district a first year prorated amount of $180,570 for 2021.

The fee for a full 12-month period at 2021 valuation would be $282,141, based on the CCFPD mill levy and a specific ownership tax on all in-town properties, excluding those under dual protection which are already in the Chaffee Fire District.

That fee would replace what the town is currently paying for capital funding of BVFD, which Puckett said was “roughly $530,000.”

The fee would be recalculated each year based on assessed value.

“We like this model because it’s explainable, it’s fair to both in-town property owners and constituents and people who are already part of the district. And we also like it because it’s predictable. It’s pretty steady, it won’t fluctuate a great deal from year to year, and it’s something we can continue to pay out of our general fund,” Puckett said.

“We’re not looking at any elections or property tax increases or sales tax increases through this model.”

In its research of call data, the steering committee found that between 2016 and 2020, BVFD responded to 16 medical calls per year on average where the fire department’s services were beneficial to help secure the scene or get personnel on the scene faster.

On average, BVFD responded to 110 calls that were either fire, auto aid or non-incident responses. There were 233 medical calls per year in which the committee determined the value-add of having BVFD on the scene was minimal.

“Those are things we definitely want to see continue in our fire support,” Puckett said. “Roughly a little over 100 calls a year, give or take. Obviously, depending on the year.”

The town would begin to divest from BV Fire, transitioning fire department staff to new jobs, transferring and selling equipment over the next 6 months and finding a new purpose for the BVFD station on Linderman Avenue.

The town would retain BV Fire’s wildland fire program and it’s all-hazard fund and brush fire truck as a revenue source.

The program was initiated by former fire chief Dixon Villers as a way to help the department pay for itself by assisting with forest fires across the western United States.

“It can continue to help pay for our fire services from year to year,” Puckett said. He proposed that Shawna Martinez, who currently manages the program for BVFD, would be transferred to a full-time position in the town’s finance department.

The impetus for the creation of the steering committee was a desire to reduce the duplication of services and efforts between BVFD and Chaffee Fire, which has one station within town limits on Antero Circle and one just outside the town boundary on CR 306.

In addition, Chaffee County EMS is planning on building a new station on Gregg Drive that expects to be open by the end of the year.

Lack of adequate staffing and a number of repairs to the station have also been concerns for the trustees.

With this service contract, Chaffee Fire will need to expand its staffing, bringing in one firefighter and a secondary mechanic and the services it provides, including fire inspections, Puckett said.

“But, really, half of the calls they’re already responding to through mutual aid or auto aid,” he said.

The service agreement IGA also lays out flexibility for planning as the town grows and allows for termination of the contract.

“We’ve had a fire department here for a long time, so we don’t take it lightly that this is a transition for not only our staff, but our community and the people that appreciate the history of BV Fire,” Puckett said.

Interim fire chief Chris Greene, who took over for Villers last year, would stay on with town until the end of 2021 to help with the transition to Chaffee Fire as well as inventory and disposal of equipment by transferring equipment to other departments or selling it.

BVFD has three full-time firefighters, who, Puckett said, “Have provided amazing service to this town, and we have tremendous respect for what they’ve done.”

The firefighters have been given a transition plan, and Puckett said that “some have already found positions in other fire departments.”

Aside from a roof replacement project, repairs and upgrades budgeted for 2021 for the Linderman Avenue fire station will not be pursued, he said.

Puckett said that he was looking into what the town could get from selling the wedge-shaped property between Linderman and U.S. Highway 24, which prior to being the fire station was the Buena Vista Police Department headquarters.

“We’ve identified the (new) police station as a number one priority as a capital project, and I want to provide the board with an idea of what the fire station property could get for the town if we sold it on the market,” Puckett said. “It could be a great location for commercial activity, as a tax-creator property. Not to say that’s ultimately what we do, but we want to be prepared with some information for you all to consider.”

In the short term, the building will continue to house the department’s equipment until it can be sold off.

“I don’t see it as a site we need for town staffing needs,” Puckett said.

The CCFPD board of directors meeting Wednesday evening occurred after The Times’ weekly press deadline.

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