Election Guide 2013: Through Referendum 5B, West Routt Fire Protection District seeks mill levy increase
October 16, 2013
Shall West Routt Fire Protection District taxes be increased up to $175,000 in 2014 and by such other amount as may be raised annually in each year thereafter by the imposition of an additional mill levy of 1.5 mills for the acquisition of district capital assets and for paying district operation and maintenance costs; and shall the proceeds of such taxes and investment income thereon and all other revenues of the district be collected and spent by the district as voter-approved revenue change in 2013 and in each year thereafter, without regard to any spending, revenue-raising or other limitation contained within Article X, Section 20 of the Colorado Constitution or Section 29-1-301, Colorado Revised Statutes and any other limitation contained in the laws of the state of Colorado?
Steamboat Springs — 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 in August 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 or large equipment purchases.
The proposed tax increase in the first year would raise an additional $175,000. Based on current property values, it would raise $214,000 in subsequent years.
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.
"We have subsidized the ambulance service out of the fire district's funding," Fralick said.
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.
Officials in Hayden cite dwindling staffing numbers as another reason the tax increase is necessary. In 2006, the department had 20 firefighters and 23 medical responders. This year, they have 14 firefighters and nine medical responders.
Volunteers are paid $40 to respond to a fire or ambulance call, and the fire department has found it increasingly difficult to recruit new volunteers.
To address staffing numbers, Chief Bryan Rickman has proposed using money from the tax increase to add additional paid shifts. This way, the department would not need to rely so heavily on volunteers that often have to leave their full-time jobs to respond to a call.