USA — Forest fires and floods have put an emphasis on continued wildfire training and mitigation in the 2014 proposed city budget.
Using a combination of general operating funds, grants and money from the voter-approved Public Safety Sales Tax, the Colorado Springs Fire Department and the Office of Emergency Management are set to receive a combined budget increase of $5.6 million.
Fire Chief Christopher Riley said the budget boost would be spent on wildfire mitigation and suppression, enhancing the community health program and opening Fire Station 22 at Voyager Parkway and North Gate Boulevard. It is the department’s goal to answer emergency calls in 8 minutes or less and first-alarm fire calls in 12 minutes or less, he said.
After the Waldo Canyon Fire, the Office of Emergency Management developed an Emergency Operations Center, which has since been activated 13 times, said Bret Waters, emergency management director. Next year’s budget calls for adding a deputy director to the department. It’s an important post because the burn scar means 10 years of potential flooding, he said.
“We really feel this position is needed,” he said.
The changes: 2013 fire department budget, $42.7 million; 2014 proposed budget, $45.7 million from the general fund. The department would receive a $1.4 million increase from the voter-approved Public Safety Sales Tax fund and $250,000 from the general fund for capital improvements. The Office of Emergency Management 2013 general operating fund budget was $449,734 and would see a slight increase to $568,570 in 2014.
What it means: Among the biggest changes in the fire department budget is an improvement to the Community Health Program through monthly neighborhood health clinics. Riley also said his goal in 2014 is to increase wildfire suppression, mitigation and training. The training and mitigation efforts are an attempt to reduce the risk of living in a wildland urban interface area, he said.
Who cares: Residents have long had an interest in public safety. In 2001, residents voted to tax themselves, approving the Public Safety Sales Tax, to pay for police and fire department improvements that range from updating facilities to hiring more police and firefighters. To date, 15 of the 21 approved projects are complete.
Also, citizens in the most northern part of the city will see progress on Fire Station 22. With the increase in funds, the fire department will begin buying equipment for the station, which is expected to open one year from now.
Sticking points: Council member Joel Miller said he worries that the 2014 budget does not include money for the 12 personnel needed to staff Station 22 when it opens. “It concerns me that we are not thinking ahead,” he said.