City seeks location for fire station

Replacing the aging Fire Station 1 would cost Idaho Falls an estimated $4 million to $5 million and likely would require a tax increase. Built in the 1930s, Fire Station 1 no longer can accommodate heavy equipment. Post Register file

With the budget deadline bearing down, Idaho Falls leaders are examining one of the most costly projects they will face in coming years.

The city is looking to replace Fire Station 1, an aging firehouse with a floor that no longer can accommodate heavy firefighting equipment.

Station 1 was built in the 1930s, interim Fire Chief Duane Nelson told the City Council during a Monday work session. As early as 1985, engineers warned that the station’s engine-bay floor wasn’t suitable for the more modern — and much heavier — equipment used by the department.

In late 2012, a fire truck was backing into the station when the floor “shifted,” Nelson said. In 2013, it was determined that heavy equipment no longer could be parked in the station.

“It is time to build for the future,” Nelson said.

A new station could cost from $4 to $5 million and paying for it likely will require a tax hike.

Nelson laid out three potential locations for a new station, although other possible sites remain under consideration. His top choice is a site in Freeman Park, located on the corner of Fremont Avenue and Science Center Drive. The site is on property the city already owns, so taxpayers would not have to pay for the land.

Mayor Rebecca Casper favors that option.

“(That) recommendation seems to be the most fiscally prudent of the three, so it makes sense to me,” she said. “I’m inclined to favor the one that saves us a few hundred thousand dollars in land acquisition costs.”

Unfortunately, Nelson said, the Freeman Park site was given to the city as a part of a conservation grant, so it may be difficult to obtain permission to build there.

The other two options examined — a site at 1240 Lindsay Blvd. and another at 2250 N. Holmes Ave. — both would cost $400,000.

The site list has not been finalized and Nelson said he still is looking for other potential locations.

Other considerations for a new station include keeping it within 1.5 miles of the city center — an effort to keep homeowners’ fire insurance rates low.

Nelson also wants to build training facilities in conjunction with the new station. That would allow the Idaho Falls Fire Department to partner with training programs at Eastern Idaho Technical College and make Idaho Falls a regional hub for firefighter training, he said.

Craig Rockwood, director of the Division of Municipal Services, said the city has two financing options for the new station: floating a bond or recapturing property tax revenue the city chose not to take in previous years, called “foregone revenue.”

“The state keeps track of (foregone revenue) and the city is allowed by law to go back and capture those funds, if they would like to. But you would have to raise your revenue to do that, and you typically have to increase your levy,” Rockwood said. “If you pass a bond, you would also have to increase your levy to pay off your bond.”

If the city floated a $4 million, 15-year bond, taxpayers would be on the hook for around $5.7 million, depending on interest rates.

Someone who owned a $100,000 home would pay an additional $12.75 per year under a bond, versus $26.71 for using foregone revenue. But over the lifetime of the bond, that taxpayer would pay out $191.25 versus $133.55 with foregone revenue.

Other options, Casper said, such as propping up the floor of the existing station, remain on the table. But Casper doesn’t back them because she’s “not interested in Band-Aids.”

“This is very important,” she said. “If we don’t address the situation … we would be negligent in providing for the safety of our community.”

Reporter Bryan Clark can be reached at 542-6751.