West Routt fire district to go back to voters for tax increase

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— After an unsuccessful ballot initiative in November 2011, the West Routt Fire Protection District is going back to voters with a more modest proposal.

The fire district’s board decided Tuesday to ask voters to increase the mill levy by 1.5 mills.

According to Routt County Assessor Gary Peterson, that proposal would represent about a 50 percent increase.

In 2012, the owner of a $200,000 home paid $49.24 in taxes to the fire district. With the proposed tax increase, the same homeowner would pay $73.12.

In 2011, the fire district asked for a 3.5 mill increase. The owner of the $200,000 home would have paid about twice as much to the fire district, or about $100 each year. The fire district’s annual revenues would have doubled to about $1 million.

Sixty percent of residents within the 200-square-mile district cast ballots against the tax increase proposed by Referendum 5A.

Ross Fralick, chairman of the fire district’s board, said an advisory group of residents recommended the smaller tax increase. The group also recommended that the fire district wait a couple of years before asking voters to approve bond questions that could fund things such as expanding and remodeling the fire station.

Fralick said the proposed tax increase would raise an additional $175,000 annually. In 2012, taxes generated $436,771 in revenue for the district.

Prior to the 2011 ballot question, the fire district had not asked voters for additional tax dollars in 31 years.

Fralick said the existing tax rate never was meant to cover the costs of ambulance service, which the fire district took over in 1981.

“As a fire department, we’ve been funding an ambulance service without any increase,” Fralick said.

He said the proposed tax increase is intended to cover the cost of the ambulance service. Fralick said the money could be used for wages, equipment and to make sure the ambulance service stays in service. Funding the ambulance service takes away from the everyday gear and equipment on which the fire district relies, Fralick said.

The 2011 tax increase was intended to help fund large capital building and equipment purchases. If the lower tax increase passes, those large purchases likely would come before voters in future years as bond questions, Fralick said.

In addition to the smaller tax increase, which would exist in perpetuity, Fralick said the advisory group recommended the fire district invest in building a website and a social media audience.

Creative Bearings was hired to build the website at a discounted rate of $1,400. Insite Media also was paid $1,400 to help promote the site and to create a social media campaign.

“It’s aggressive, intentionally,” Fralick said.

For example, the Facebook campaign shows images of responders and states the district has aging equipment and is suffering from a shortage of volunteers.

“What if help was over an hour away?” is written on a photo of a wrecked car on one Facebook post.

Fralick said Colorado law prohibits the fire district from promoting the ballot initiative as the election nears, and it soon will have to stop the existing social media campaign. A private group of residents would have to support the initiative for the campaign to continue.

Fire protection district mill levies

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com

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