Residents of Fountain voted against a tax increase to help the fire department pay for more staffing and equipment. Initiative 2B was shot down by a margin of 228 votes -- 1,672 voted yes and 1,900 voted no. It would have increased property taxes to a little over $5 per month on a home valued at $150,000.
Darin Anstine, Fountain Fire Chief, told KRDO NewsChannel 13 that he was disappointed with the result of the vote and also the low voter turnout on the initiative. Fountain, El Paso County's second largest city, has over 27,000 residents.
"Literally, people die in our community when we can't get to them," Anstine said. "It's very frustrating as a fire chief to know that there's people out there having critical, life-threatening emergencies and we don't have anyone to send to them."
The money from the tax increase would have been used to staff another full-time ambulance, replace a 15-year-old fire truck, a 13-year-old ambulance and build a fire station on the east side of the city. Fountain's fire stations are on the west side of town, separated from the east by train tracks. Response times to the east side of the city can be upwards of 14 minutes.
"This fire station has to run over to the east side," Anstine said. "When it runs to the east side for a call, then this side of the city doesn't have a fire station for the folks on this side."
The Fountain Fire Department also has low staffing. In total, there are six firefighters on duty each day amongst the city's three fire stations.
"Ideal would be like what Colorado Springs has: four firefighters on a fire truck," Anstine said. "I have two firefighters in a fire station."
Once those resources are tapped out, Fountain FD has to rely on other fire departments to assist in calls.
Fountain's newly-elected mayor, Gabriel Ortega, told KRDO NewsChannel 13 that he, too, was disappointed in the vote against 2B. However, he said he realizes that voters do not want to pay more taxes and the city needs to find a different solution. This is the second year in a row voters have said no to a mill levy for the fire department.
"Voters have clearly said we don't want to raise the taxes," Ortega said. "So we're going to have to figure something else out. We've got to go back and look at our budget as a city."
Anstine said he was not sure what the next step would be for the department. He said he is speaking with Ortega and City Council to come up with a solution.
"I know that we have a problem with money," Anstine said. "I don't see any changes or us being able to do anything right now."