Steamboat Springs Early voting ballots were the deciding factor in Tuesday's failure of Referendum 2A, a Steamboat Springs property tax to support ambulance and fire services.
With all eight city precincts counted, just 12 votes separated the issue 1,256 people voted against the tax and 1,244 voted for it. But when the clerk's office counted absentee and early voting ballots in the early hours of Wednesday, the no votes jumped ahead by 253. The final tally had 1,931 votes against the tax and 1,678 for it.
"I am disappointed in the results. I am not surprised. In times of economic hardship it is hard to get any sort of tax passed," Councilman Paul Strong said.
Strong, who headed the campaign for the tax, is not sure why the early voting had such a different outcome than the ballots cast Nov. 5. He said it could have been too little campaigning, staring a campaign late or the timing of newspaper articles. The advertising campaign for the fire tax did not start until the first day of voting and the campaign spent $750.
Voting numbers showed the majority of downtown precincts voted against the fire tax and the precincts close to Mount Werner were in favor of it.
The 5-mill property tax would have generated $1.9 million, which would have been dedicated to fire and ambulance services. The fire and ambulance department is working with a $1.3 million budget. The new tax would have added another $600,000 to that budget for an increase in personnel, and freed up $1.3 million in the general fund.
Assistant Fire Chief Bob Struble said the tax came in a tough political climate and was one of two local tax increases on Tuesday's ballot. Struble said the need is still there for six full-time employees that would have been added to the department if the tax was approved.
"I would like to go back in front of the council and ask for the staff this year," Struble said.
Under a consolidation agreement with the Steamboat Springs Rural Fire Protection District, the city had agreed to 12 full-time employees. The department is operating with six now.
But Strong said without the extra funding, bringing on those employees would not happen.
"We can't afford to bring in 12. We reduced all the departments' budgets by two percent and we would like to reduce more next year across the board," Strong said.
The failed referendum also means the city will not have the extra $1.3 million in the general fund that it had hoped to use for capital improvements.
With a goal to have 15 percent of the city budget spent on capital improvements, Strong said the failure of Tuesday's fire tax would mean cutting city services.
"It is up to the council which areas of city services we begin to start cutting. We can't get to where we need to be in capital spending without pretty severe cuts in the next few years," Strong said.
In Tuesday's vote, Strong said the voters had voiced their unwillingness to increase taxes.
He said next year he could support a ballot issue that would ask voters to approve an initiative that would reduce sales tax, but install property taxes to make up the difference.