Residents in the south Denver metro area may have felt confused when they received a letter from their firefighting agency about an “amended service plan.”
The letter from South Metro Fire Rescue contained legal language and pointed to upcoming public meetings of county leaders who would vote to approve or deny the proposed changes.
But residents shouldn’t expect any changes to the services they receive when they call 911 in an emergency, according to Mike Dell’Orfano, a South Metro Fire official.
The proposed amendment is “just recognizing that we might be offering the same services, but over the past 55 years, the volume, the expertise, the types of incidents have all evolved,” said Dell’Orfano, the agency’s chief government affairs officer.
It also aims to “take a new snapshot at what’s in our fire district: the hazards, the number of cities, the population, all that,” said Dell’Orfano, who described the proposed change as something that occurs “in the background” from an administrative and legal perspective.
A lot has changed for South Metro Fire Rescue in five decades. The agency’s original service plan dates back to 1967, when the organization was known as Parker Fire Protection District. The old agency served about 2,000 residents over 105 square miles in portions of Arapahoe and Douglas counties.
Now, South Metro Fire Rescue covers 560,000 people over 285 square miles, stretching over much of the south Denver metro area after many fire protection agencies combined over the years to form today’s agency.
It now covers many cities and towns, including Bow Mar, Castle Pines, Centennial, Cherry Hills Village, Columbine Valley, Foxfield, Greenwood Village, Littleton, Lone Tree and Parker, along with nearby unincorporated portions of Arapahoe, Jefferson, and Douglas counties. “Unincorporated” means an area doesn’t sit within a city or town.
Since the agency’s start decades ago, its original service plan was amended a couple times to account for the ability to take on debt and to make sure all its services were reflected, Dell’Orfano said. Those amendments occurred in 1983 and 1996.
“As of right now, we don’t have debt, and we haven’t used debt to fund major capital projects for several years,” Dell’Orfano said. “Capital” costs include paying for fire trucks, fire stations and ambulances, for example.
The proposed amendment won’t change the way the agency spends money, and it won’t change South Metro Fire’s hiring ability or the pay that employees receive, Dell’Orfano said.
South Metro Fire’s property tax rate — the mill levy that property owners in the fire agency’s service area pay — would not increase as a result of the amended plan.
Some residents in the area did see small changes to their property tax rates in recent years when elections in 2018 decided that the City of Littleton, the nearby Littleton Fire Protection District and the Highlands Ranch Metro District would be absorbed into South Metro Fire Rescue.
(The Littleton Fire Protection District had included west Centennial, among other areas near Littleton.)
At the time, for example, Highlands Ranch homeowners saw a net property tax increase of 2.25 mills after being absorbed by South Metro Fire — or about $6.75 more per month on a house valued at $500,000.
But back then, those three entities knew they would eventually have needed to raise taxes to maintain their current services if they didn’t join forces with South Metro Fire, Dell’Orfano said.
Cunningham Fire Protection District, which served a part of Arapahoe County, also joined South Metro Fire in the past several years, but the Cunningham area saw a tax decrease as a result, Dell’Orfano said.
Taxes weren’t the only factor at play in the transitions, he noted.
“If all else was the same, there would have been no reason to ask their voters to pay more,” Dell’Orfano said. “It was also determined there would be improved service, improved firefighter working conditions, better financial stability and a more sustainable organization into the future.”
Leaders in the three counties over which South Metro Fire Rescue spreads will hold public meetings on the proposed change in the coming weeks.
The Douglas County commissioners will meet at 2:30 p.m. Feb. 21 at 100 Third St. in Castle Rock.
The Arapahoe County commissioners will meet 9:30 a.m. Feb. 28 at 5334 S. Prince St. in Littleton.
Jefferson County’s commissioners will meet 8 a.m. Feb. 28 at 100 Jefferson County Parkway in Golden.