Henderson mill has its own fire department, so why does it have to pay district taxes?
County decides property should remain inside Hot Sulphur Fire district
The Grand County commissioners have denied a request to exclude the Henderson mill from the Hot Sulphur Springs-Parshall Fire Protection District.
Climax Molybdenum, which owns the Henderson mill and mine, petitioned the county in 2019 to exclude the mill from the fire district. The commissioner’s deliberation, which took place in December, included a specific list of considerations on how the costs and benefits of exclusion would affect the property, the fire district and the county as a whole.
In an exclusion hearing with Hot Sulphur Fire in November 2019, Climax’s representation insisted the mill should never have been included in the district when it was added in 2015.
Prior to that, the mill had relied on its own 12-person, mill emergency response team and engine that served as an onsite fire department. Any issues that needed additional resources were covered in a “pay-as-you-go” model, meaning the mill would pay after the fact for the use of any outside emergency resources.
The mill’s emergency team still exists because its isolated location — roughly 20 miles south of Parshall and 20 miles north of Silverthorne — means a delayed response from the nearest fire districts. Climax asked to return to the pre-2015 model on a going forward basis.
While the commissioners supported the continued existence of the mill’s emergency response team, they pointed out that Henderson has still had to call on Hot Sulphur Fire for certain emergencies.
The mill sits in the middle of extensive forest and wildfires are at the forefront of the commissioners’ minds. In fact, it was in the midst of Climax’s petition process that the Williams Fork Fire broke out across the road from the mill.
“Hot Sulphur Springs Parshall Fire had a big part in keeping that fire from getting onto mill property in those first few days,” Hot Sulphur Fire Chief Tom Baumgarten said over the phone.
The mill’s representation also argued in the exclusion hearing that reducing the estimated $173,000 in taxes would help keep Henderson, a major employer for the county, open and competitive with Climax’s other properties.
For Hot Sulphur Fire, though, the Henderson mill makes up a large proportion of its tax revenue. This revenue funds both fire prevention and the resources to be used when an emergency event occurs.
“It helps us prepare for any of the major calls that could happen out there with the fact that they’re a commercial property, a mill and a mine,” Baumgarten said. “Hazardous response is always a possibility, so we have to prepare for that kind of stuff. We have to prepare our vehicles, our personnel for the worst-case scenarios out there. That is a costly endeavor.”
Explaining their decision, the commissioners added that funding those resources in the pay-as-you-go system after the fact defeats the purpose. “Insurance with no resources to respond is no insurance at all,” the decision read.
The county did acknowledge the tax rate may not be entirely suitable considering the mill’s firefighting infrastructure, but that was not up to the commissioners to decide.
The decision ultimately found that the economic and public safety factors do not support exclusion. The county held that the need for fire preparedness supports the necessity to have the mill property be included within one of the county’s fire districts.
The commissioners signed the decision Jan. 5 and Climax has 30 days to file an appeal.
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