Our View: West Routt Fire deserves ‘yes’ vote

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Steamboat Today editorial board — June to December 2013

  • Suzanne Schlicht, COO and publisher
  • Lisa Schlichtman, editor
  • Tom Ross, reporter
  • David Baldinger Jr., community representative
  • Lisa Brown, community representative

Contact the editorial board at 970-871-4221 or editor@SteamboatToday.com. Would you like to be a member of the board? Fill out a letter of interest now.

At Issue

The West Routt Fire Protection District is asking voters to approve a 1.5 mill levy increase.

Our View

We believe the ballot issue deserves voter approval.

The West Routt Fire Protection District is asking Hayden-area voters to approve a 1.5 mill levy increase in the November election. The ballot request would represent about a 50 percent increase in taxes paid to the district, which is less than half of the 3.5 mill levy increase district voters rejected in November 2011.

Two years ago, the newspaper editorialized against passage of the fire district’s mill levy increase because the proposal represented a 100 percent increase in taxes and the needs of the district for increased tax revenue were not clearly communicated.

This time around, the proposal has earned the Steamboat Pilot & Today’s endorsement, in part because of how district officials responded to their defeat at the polls. The district’s board of directors regrouped and decided to put together an advisory group of area residents to investigate the best approach to getting a mill levy passed. The district re-evaluated its needs, weighed the opinions of its patrons and opted to place a more modest tax proposal on the ballot.

The mill levy increase proposal also seems reasonable for the fire district’s more clearly articulated needs. According to Ross Fralick, chairman of the fire district’s board, the proposed tax increase would raise an additional $175,000 in its first year, and then based on current property values, it would generate $214,000 in subsequent years. In 2012, taxes generated $436,771 in district revenue.

The additional tax funding, according to Fralick, would be used for wages, equipment and to make sure the ambulance service, which the district took over in 1981, continues to operate. Large purchases for equipment would not be covered by the tax increase as was proposed in 2011. Instead, these costs would come before voters in the form of bond issue questions.

The proposed mill levy increase of 1.5 mills, if approved, would raise West Routt Fire Protection District’s mill levy to 4.593 mills, which still is less than, but more in line with, most other area fire protection districts. For example, North Routt Fire Protection District’s mill levy stands at 7.108, Oak Creek Fire Protection District’s mill levy is 9.938 and Steamboat Springs Rural Fire Protection District’s mill levy is 6.217. Only Yampa Fire Protection District’s levy would be lower at 3.471.

If the increase receives voter approval, the owner of residential property valued at $200,000 would pay $73.12 in taxes to the fire district compared with the $49.24 paid in 2012 under the current levy — a 48 percent increase.

We also would note that the district has operated rather conservatively since its inception and is not a government entity that runs to taxpayers asking for tax increases at every turn. In fact, prior to the 2011 election, district officials had not sought a tax hike for 31 years.

The fire district hopes additional tax revenue can bolster department operations and fight a troubling trend of decreasing numbers of volunteer firefighters combined with difficulty attracting new recruits. The department is proposing to use a portion of its increased tax funding to add additional paid shifts to its staffing, which should produce a good return on investment for taxpayers by improving response time and bolstering public safety.

We urge West Routt Fire Protection District voters to vote “yes” on Referendum 5B.

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