The Palmer Lake Town Council abandoned talks to disband the local fire department Wednesday, committing instead to draft a ballot measure for the fall election that would increase property taxes to support the agency.
The town said in a recent post to its Facebook page that it was considering closing the department and forming an agreement that would allow Tri-Lakes Monument Fire Protection District to handle emergency calls there.
But town officials appeared to have abandoned that plan due to public pressure, even before about 100 people — many in support of the fire department — crowded town hall for the Wednesday night meeting.
“I think it would be a total disgrace to let this mayor, this town council and this city do away with our fire department,” said Ron Kruger, a former Palmer Lake Fire Chief whose father helped found the department more than 80 years ago.
One resident said during the public hearing that Mayor John Cressman should be recalled.
“Get out,” another woman in the crowd shouted at Cressman. “You’re the biggest jerk ever.”
But Cressman countered that he was trying to help. “This department has been neglected for years and years and years,” he said. “We want to fix it.”
Trustee Bob Mutu echoed the sentiment.
“All of us here would very much like to keep the fire department. But we need a viable plan to put that in place, and we’re working on it.”
The department is funded by 10 mills in property taxes, but 16 to 18 more mills are probably needed to adequately pay for its operation, said Shana Ball, a member of a community group that has formed in support of the agency. Fire officials noted that estimate might still change. One mill is equal to $1 for every $1,000 of assessed property value.
The extra taxpayer money would finance a new station, which would cost approximately $900,000 to $1.5 million, that would house the fire and police departments, Ball said. The existing station has fallen into disrepair.
An anonymous investor has contacted the fire department and offered to help finance the new facility, but the department doesn’t have many details about the offer yet, said Fire Captain Weston Oesterreich.
The agency is now staffed by three full-time firefighter EMTs and seven more part-time employees, Oesterreich said. The additional tax money could pay for more staff, including a paramedic and fire chief.
The department hopes to purchase an ambulance, possibly with grant funds, and replace its outdated fire engine in the next three to five years, which would cost at least $500,000.
“This citizenship wants our fire department, and I believe we’re going to come together and make it happen,” Ball said.
“This citizenship wants our fire department.” Shana Ball, community group