Rural fire district election contested

Nine people have announced candidacy for three positions opening on the Steamboat Springs Rural Fire Protection District's board of directors.

Except for a 1998 election when three candidates ran for two seats, the district has not seen a contested election for more than 20 years.

District President Bob Kuusinen said he was excited to see the amount of interest in the board, but said it was rare.

"Usually, you have to go out and beg people to be on the board," Kuusinen said.

Two incumbents are running for the board: Ben Beall and Steve Hilley. Unable to run because of term limits, Jane McLoed will not be running for the third seat.

Board members are elected at large. The district represents more than 480 square miles within Routt County, from the county line on Rabbit Ears Pass to Milner and from Stagecoach Reservoir past Mad Creek.

The seven other candidates are James Stegmaier, a structural engineer; Brian Len, a engineer; Mary Duran, an insurance agent; Gary Wilson; Kristina Dodd, who has an insurance background; Douglas Scherar, a sergeant with the Routt County Sheriff's Office; and Joseph McNasby, an insurance agent.

Beall, who has served on the board for six years, called the interest strange. He questioned the actions of fellow board member Thom McMahon, who he said publicly has criticized the district's contract with the city and proposed forming its own fire department.

"It's always a possibility and something we need to look at periodically, but we can't afford to do that now," McMahon said.

McMahon said he doesn't have an agenda, but that he did hand in applications for two candidates and talked to between 20 and 30 people about being part of the fire district board. Of the nine candidates, McMahon said he encouraged three to apply.

"I don't know what these people's positions are," McMahon said. "It is nothing more than wanting to serve in a public service capacity."

McMahon said the increased interest has come about because of more advertising for the opened positions and word of mouth. This year, the district ran a large ad in the newspaper advertising the open positions as opposed to the small legal ads the district has run in the past, McMahon said.

McMahon said he wants the board to represent a diverse area of the district.

Duran, who was encouraged to apply by a co-worker, and Joseph McNasby and Brian Lynn, who were encouraged to apply by McMahon, said they do not have an agenda to change the direction of the district.

They thought they would be good candidates because of their professional backgrounds, which at times deal with fire protection.

The relationship between the city and district has been under review for the past two years. The two share fire and emergency medical services under an intergovernmental agreement that was signed in December 2000. Under that agreement, the city agreed to help fund 12 full-time firefighters and EMS personnel.

Low revenue years and two failed property tax proposals have left the city unable to fund those firefighters. Operating under a property tax, the district has sufficient funds to share costs of the increased personnel.

The city and district have talked about consolidating, which would allow the two entities to be on equal financial footing with one property tax.

"The district has an ongoing question of do we consolidate local funding sources," Kuusinen said. "Having a good board the next two to four years is really important."

The election is set for May 4 at either the Anchor Way Baptist Church or Christian Heritage School.

-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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