South Metro Fire District files lawsuit against Parker redevelopment arm

CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- South Metro Fire Rescue Fire Protection District is used to putting out fires and rescuing others. But now it’s trying to save itself.

The fire district is suing the Parker Authority for Reinvestment, claiming it is taking money intended for public safety and funneling it to developers.

South Metro claims PAR has deprived fire stations of more than $321,000 since 2012. Instead, it claims the money is going to enrich others.

"We believe what they are doing is illegal. We believe they are taking money earmarked for public safety which is critical to citizens. We want them to know that," South Metro Fire Chief Bob Baker said.

Baker said the town's redevelopment arm is illegally siphoning money approved by voters for fire protection services. And, instead, is spending it to pay for new growth.

“We would have liked to avoid litigation. This is a last resort to us,” Baker said.

He claims discussions with PAR have gone nowhere.

The money amounts to $321,691 so far. But it will climb to $16 million over the lifespan of the urban renewal authority of 25 years.

"Sixteen million could go to fund 32 fire trucks. It could go to fund a fire station for more than 10 years. It could go to equipment, paramedics, firefighters, fire engines, ambulances -- any type of safety equipment firefighters need to do their job, to take care of people," Baker said.

And the impact goes beyond Parker. The Fire District serves nearly 204,000 people in seven towns and cities, including, Parker, Centennial, Greenwood Village, Cherry Hills Village, Lone Tree, Foxfield and Castle Pines.

"We believe the town of Parker residents shouldn't have to choose between public safety and development," Baker said.

Some people who live in Parker agree.

"We need to be taking into account all structural and safety needs before we develop. And if we don't do that as we go, we are developing too quickly," Gail Holdeman said.

South Metro is asking Douglas County District Court to order PAR to repay all the money it says was improperly diverted and to stop future tax money from going to it.

PAR said it is reviewing the lawsuit and had no comment.