Mixed Message For Hellsgate

Voters picked an incumbent and two newcomers for the fire district board, including a critic of current policies

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Larry Cory, Fred Horton and Gary Norem have likely been elected to serve on the five-member Hellsgate Fire District board for four years.

The voters opted for a mixed message, returning incumbent Cory to a second term — but also voting in Horton, a strong critic of current board policies.

Although Norem and Cory ran as a team with Garah Monnich, Horton edged out Monnich by about 54 votes.

Some 3,400 uncounted provisional and early ballots remain countywide, which could change the outcome of close races in the next few days. County officials did not on Thursday have a tally of how many uncounted ballots remain in the Hellsgate Fire District, centered on Star Valley.

Many in the district agree — the board faces a number of daunting tasks in the coming years. The district has struggled to stay afloat with a decline in property values eating away at the district’s revenues.

The district needs to add a new station in Tonto Village and find a way to raise revenue to keep its full-time staff employed.

Currently, nearly half of the district’s revenue comes from property taxes, with the rest from payments from the federal government for helping fight wildland fires. The district relies heavily on federal grants, including a recent grant that will restore the battalion chief position and bolster the number of full-time firefighters. The district also continues to rely heavily on trained volunteers.

Those running for the Hellsgate’s fire board fell into one of two camps, those that support the current board’s direction and others that feel it has fallen off course.

Norem, Monnich and Cory all said despite years of steep budget cuts, Hellsgate officials have managed to retain a high level of service — one they plan to maintain, even if it means more tax increases.

Fred Horton strongly disagreed. Horton said while he hears the district’s plight, he doesn’t agree with the board’s decision to raise the tax rate each year. He said several residents have complained to him about the outrageous rate and “maybe I can help them stay in their budget.”

“I just feel that they are over spending,” he said.

Norem said he also doesn’t want to see current service levels wane. Norem said he will try to find ways to maintain response times “in the face of tight budgets caused by the large decline in district property valuations and the statutory maximum tax rate cap.”

Cory said he feels strongly that the department needs to maintain its services, but “it takes money to do that.”

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