Highlands Ranch Metro District > Fire rescue unification

Unifying Fire Rescue Services in the South Metro Area


On December 12, 2017, the Highlands Ranch Metro District Board of Directors voted unanimously to approve an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) with South Metro Fire Rescue (South Metro). This agreement is the first step in a process of unification, whereby Highlands Ranch would be included within the South Metro service area and receive fire rescue service from South Metro. The following information details what inclusion could entail for citizens and property within Highlands Ranch.

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  1. How has fire rescue service previously been handled in Highlands Ranch?
  2. What would change if Highlands Ranch unified with South Metro?
  3. Do voters in Highlands Ranch get a say?
  4. How would unification affect property taxes?
  5. What prompted the Metro District to evaluate unification with South Metro?
  6. What are the alternatives to unification?
  7. How would residents and businesses in Highlands Ranch benefit from unification?
  8. What are potential reasons residents and business in Highlands Ranch may not support unification?
  9. What would happen if unification was not approved?
  10. Why is an election necessary if Highlands Ranch can receive services from South Metro through a contract?
  11. What would happen to current firefighters serving Highlands Ranch if inclusion is approved?

1. How has fire rescue service previously been handled in Highlands Ranch?

For 37 years, fire rescue service in Highlands Ranch has been provided through a contract agreement with the City of Littleton through Littleton Fire Rescue and in partnership with the Littleton Fire Protection District. The Highlands Ranch Metro District (Metro District) owns firefighting apparatus, two fire stations located in Highlands Ranch, and has joint ownership of a third station nearby with the City of Littleton and Littleton Fire Protection District. These stations are staffed by personnel from Littleton Fire Rescue. The Metro District does not employ firefighting or rescue staff directly.


2. What would change if Highlands Ranch unified with South Metro?

The Metro District would no longer contract for fire rescue services. Instead, Highlands Ranch would be included in the service area boundaries of South Metro, which would provide these services to the Highlands Ranch community. South Metro would employ firefighting personnel currently working for Littleton Fire Rescue and would pursue construction of a new fire station in Highlands Ranch. Current stations and equipment would also be included in the unification plan.

These actions would improve response times and enhance service delivery throughout Highlands Ranch. The Highlands Ranch community would also have a presence, and vote, on the South Metro Board of Directors.

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3. Do voters in Highlands Ranch get a say?

Yes. Voters in Highlands Ranch will be asked to decide on unification by voting on whether or not to include Highlands Ranch in the South Metro service area. This election will occur in May 2018.

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4. How would unification affect property taxes?

If unification with South Metro is approved, South Metro would begin assessing its tax of 9.25 mills on property in Highlands Ranch. This is the same rate applied across the entire South Metro service area. The Metro District would decrease its tax rate by 7 mills because it would no longer contract for fire rescue services. See the calculation below:

Based on the numbers above, taxpayers would pay an additional $1.35 per month per $100,000 of appraised home value.

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5. What prompted the Metro District to evaluate unification with South Metro?

The cost of fire rescue services has increased at a faster rate than assessed values in Highlands Ranch. As a result, a greater portion of the Metro District’s overall operating budget is being used to contract for these services. In 2008, fire rescue services represented 36 percent of the Metro District’s operating budget. In 2017, fire rescue costs made up 45 percent of the operating budget. Unification would allow the Metro District to remove these increasing costs from its operating budget, and reduce its mill levy.

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6. What are the alternatives to unification?

The Highlands Ranch Metro District, Littleton Fire Protection District and the City of Littleton are all either seeking unification or considering unification with South Metro, so the existing partnership will not exist as of January 1, 2019. The current partnership was not able to fund an appropriate level of service over the long term.

West Metro Fire Rescue was another alternative, but that is a higher cost than contracting with South Metro.

The Metro District’s IGA with South Metro allows South Metro to provide fire rescue service to Highlands Ranch should unification not be approved by voters, but this would be a temporary arrangement. South Metro’s Board will not enter into long-term service contracts for both financial and operational reasons.

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7. How would residents and businesses in Highlands Ranch benefit from unification?

South Metro currently provides fire rescue services to more than 200,000 residents across 179 square miles in Douglas and Arapahoe counties. South Metro is an internationally accredited agency, a distinction given to fire and rescue services that meet rigorous standards for service and management best practices. It is one of only 14 accredited fire agencies in Colorado, and one of 216 agencies worldwide. If unification occurs, South Metro would become the second largest fire and rescue provider in Colorado and the communities it serves would benefit from reliable staffing and greater capabilities in terms of training and fire suppression equipment.

As part of the unification plan, South Metro will build, equip and staff a new fire station in Highlands Ranch and provide improved services including quicker response times and improved prevention/education services. Unification also improves the capacity to respond to large-scale incidents or multiple emergencies.

Unification can create greater stability in how fire and rescue services are provided. Contracting with other departments to provide firefighting personnel carries greater possibilities for inadequate staffing and cost fluctuations and restricts a community’s ability to have a say in how resources are managed.

Unification is a nationwide trend. There are demonstrated improvements in response times, capabilities, fire and emergency medical efficiencies, commercial and public property inspections, and reduced costs in administration, training and equipment purchases.

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8. What are potential reasons residents and business in Highlands Ranch may not support unification?

Residents and businesses in Highlands Ranch will experience a net increase in their property taxes with the adoption of South Metro’s mill levy rate. Some voters may be opposed to paying increased taxes.

If unification is approved, South Metro will become the second largest fire rescue agency in Colorado. Voters concerned about increasing the size of government agencies may not be comfortable with consolidating resources this way.

Highlands Ranch has received adequate fire rescue service for 37 years through its agreements with Littleton Fire Rescue and the Littleton Fire Protection District. While unification would increase service and governance capabilities, it may be viewed as unnecessary.

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9. What would happen if unification was not approved?

Under the IGA between the Metro District and South Metro, South Metro will begin providing service to the Metro District in January 2019. If unification is not approved, a lower level of service will be provided by South Metro on a temporary contract basis, and a new fire station in Highlands Ranch will not be constructed.

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10. Why is an election necessary if Highlands Ranch can receive services from South Metro through a contract?

South Metro has indicated it would not provide service through a long-term contract. A contracted relationship would also not provide Highlands Ranch with a vote, or governance role, of fire-rescue services in the community. As stated, South Metro would build a new fire station in Highlands Ranch, but the community would need to be within South Metro’s service area for this to occur.

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11. What would happen to current firefighters serving Highlands Ranch if inclusion is approved?

South Metro has indicated it will be able to employ the current Littleton Fire Rescue paramedics and firefighters serving the Highlands Ranch community. Personnel would have the opportunity to join South Metro at their current rank.

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For More Information

Unifying Fire Rescue Services – Fact Sheet

Please email questions or comments to smfrcommunications@southmetro.org.

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