Keystone approves combined fire district

By Kacie Svoboda



In a special meeting on Monday, Feb. 27, the Keystone Fire District Board voted unanimously to pass the resolution to form the new Battle Creek Fire Protection District. If Hayward and Hermosa pass their resolutions, all assets and liabilities from the three districts will be combined into the new district, which will be effective on March 31.

“It’s not a done deal,” said Keystone Fire District president Jim DeHaai. “It’s up to Hayward and Hermosa now.”

The Hermosa Fire District will meet to discuss the new fire district on Tuesday, March 14, and Hermosa Fire District secretary Dave Lindbloom expects it will come to a vote. The Hayward Fire District will vote on the resolution during its Monday, March 20, meeting.

At the public meeting on Monday, Feb. 20, Keystone residents were concerned with representation on the combined Battle Creek Fire Board. The fine details of the combined district still have to be decided, however, according to DeHaai, the districts are now leaning toward establishing a seven-person board — with two representatives elected from each district and the last position offered at-large. The new district will have 60 days after its formation to establish a board.

Lindbloom said he  heard concerns about an increase in the mill levy from Hermosa residents. The Hermosa Fire District’s current mill levy is set at approximately 0.65; within the combined district, it is anticipated that the mill levy would be 1.0.

Though Hermosa will see the biggest increase in taxes for the three districts, it also will see the addition of two paid firefighter positions at the Hermosa station to match the two paid firefighters in Keystone. This will decrease response times in Hermosa, as present volunteers have to leave their workplace or residence, travel to the fire station and gear up before heading out on a call. The paid firefighters will be expected to be out the door in two minutes or less.

“Mainly, I have people weighing if the faster response time is worth the cost,” Lindbloom said.

But for Lindbloom the choice is clear.

“If an incident started right now, I’m not confident more than two people could show up from Hermosa,” he said. “We can have the best equipment in the world but that doesn’t do anything if we don’t have people.”

Some Hayward residents are also concerned their 1.097 mill levy could also go up, as a 1.0 mill levy will barely cover the proposed budget of $321,000. However, most seem to find the benefits of the new system would outweigh the costs.

“I don’t want my property taxes to go up more than anybody else, but I can’t live here without a good, responding fire district,” said Pat Mak of Hayward.

Hayward Fire District president John Esposti also believes in the combined district.

“This is happening because the world is changing,” he said.

For Eposti, higher firefighter training requirements, fewer volunteers and an aging volunteer population are necessitating a different approach to firefighting.

“The only way we can possibly overcome these challenges is with paid firefighters,” he said.