Our View: Yes to 2D, no to 5A
October 15, 2011
Two Routt County communities will vote this month on tax proposals that would provide additional funding for emergency services. But while one proposal is a sensible request of residents, the other goes too far and should be rejected.
Town of Oak Creek residents are being asked to approve Referendum 2D, a proposal that would raise the town sales tax rate from 3 percent to 4 percent. It's estimated the tax increase would generate about $39,000 in 2012. Town officials say the new money will be used to help pay for a second full-time police officer. The proposal seems like a reasonable solution to what has been an ongoing law enforcement issue in Oak Creek, and we urge residents there to support it.
The town of approximately 800 residents currently has one full-time police officer and one part-time officer who works seasonally. A second full-time officer would help provide the law enforcement coverage we think many Oak Creek residents want. Of course, the election results will be the real determining factor in whether Oak Creek is ready to embrace a stronger police presence. The town's recent law enforcement history is a roller coaster of short-lived hires and disagreement among residents about the level of service they want from the police department.
But we think the time is right for Oak Creek to provide additional funding and police protection for its residents. We hope residents feel the same way by voting to approve Referendum 2D.
On the other side of the county, West Routt Fire Protection District residents will decide the fate of Referendum 5A, a property tax increase that would more than double the fire district's current revenues. But the district lacks a long-term plan for how those new funds will be spent, and it hasn't demonstrated the need for a permanent tax increase that would boost its annual revenues to $1 million.
Specifically, Referendum 5A would raise the district's current property tax rate from 2.772 mills to 6.272 mills — an increase of 3.5 mills. The increase alone would generate an estimated $575,000 in 2012.
The fire district says it hasn't asked for a mill levy increase in 31 years and that it has capital needs, including a new ladder truck, a new rescue truck and an expansion of its fire station. Fire district officials also say they'd like to bring on more full-time firefighters to make up for a drop in volunteer firefighters.
We don't doubt the fire district does a good job serving its residents, and it very well might have some capital needs. But we think it ought to be clear in how it intends to spend $1 million per year, every year, going forward. District officials say they're working on a 20-year plan. That's good, but it should have been completed and shared with residents before a tax increase was placed on the ballot. We urge the West Routt Fire Protection District to finish that plan and come back to the voters next year, perhaps with a property tax increase that sunsets in 20 years to match the term of the long-range plan in an amount that matches the needs identified by that plan.
Until that happens, voters should reject Referendum 5A.