Steamboat Springs Based on the final, unofficial votes from Tuesday night, the West Routt Fire Protection District now will be on better financial footing after voters narrowly passed a tax increase.
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Referendum 5B was supported by 50.5 percent of voters in the Hayden area. There were 334 votes cast in support of the referendum and 327 against.
“Just by a squeak, but I’ll take it,” said Ross Fralick, chairman of the West Routt board. “I’m thrilled. It’s what we wanted. It will just let us do our jobs better.”
With such a close race, officials from the district will breathe easier once the vote is certified. There were 7,321 votes cast in the entire county, and Routt County Clerk Kay Weinland said there are an additional 47 ballots that had issues and were not counted. For example, the ballots were not signed by the voter or the signature did not match records. Letters will be sent out Wednesday to the owners of those ballots, and they have until Nov. 14 to fix the problem with their ballots. It was not known Tuesday night whether any of those ballots belonged to voters in the Hayden area.
In addition to those 47 ballots, there are an additional 25 ballots that will be counted at a later time. Those ballots have been set aside to protect the identify of the voters who own the 47 ballots.
Ballots from those living overseas had to have been postmarked by 7 p.m. Tuesday, and they still can be counted if they arrive at the clerk’s office within a certain number of days, Weinland said.
At this point, the close vote does not warrant a recount, Weinland said.
Fralick said that he was not surprised the vote was so close but that he would have liked to have seen more support.
“I still think the sentiment out there is people don’t want more taxation,” Fralick said.
For this election, the fire district was going for a more modest tax increase.
“We found the magic number and hit it,” Fralick said.
In 2011, the fire district asked for a 3.5 mill increase, which would have doubled district revenues to about $1 million. The measure failed with 60 percent of residents in the 200-square-mile fire district voting against it. The owner of a $200,000 home would have paid about twice as much to the fire district, or about $100 per year under that plan.
On Tuesday, voters approved a 1.5 mill increase, which equals about a 50 percent increase. Based on 2012 property values, the owner of a $200,000 home paid $49.24 in taxes to the fire district. That same property owner now would pay $73.12.
In its first year, the proposed tax increase would raise an additional $175,000 in revenue for the district. Based on current property values, it would raise $214,000 in subsequent years.
In 2012, taxes generated revenue of $436,771.
With the additional tax revenue, Fralick said, the fire district will be able to maintain its ambulance service. He said the fire district has been subsidizing the ambulance service since the district took it over in 1981.
In addition to ensuring ambulance service continues, the tax dollars could be used for wages and everyday gear and equipment on which the fire district relies.
The tax increase was not intended to fund major expenses, such as purchasing apparatus or building additions to the fire station. Fralick said funding for those large expenses would come before voters at a future date.
“$175,000 doesn’t go very far to buy a fire truck, and it won’t build a building,” Fralick said.
Hayden Chief Bryan Rickman has said the additional money is needed to help address dwindling volunteer numbers. The department now will be able to add additional paid shifts.
“Personnel is really what we’ll look at first,” Fralick said.
To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247, email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @SBTStensland
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