Hayden voters approve changes to fire department budget, deny property tax
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — In a special election in West Routt, voters approved a ballot measure to stabilize the local fire district’s budget, while another measure to levy a property tax to support the district failed by a close margin.
The 2-mill property tax, which would have funded renovations to the West Routt Fire Protection District’s fire station, failed by just two votes. There were 224 “yes” votes cast compared to 226 “no” votes, according to Chief Dal Leck. The fire district planned to apply for a state grant to help pay for construction but will no longer do so.
Leck said he believes financial uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic may have been part of the reason the property tax did not pass.
“We can reevaluate things and maybe later on, when the economy is a little more stable, we can push that forward again,” he said of the tax.
The ballot question concerning the fire district’s budget passed by a large margin, with 251 votes cast in favor and 181 against. The measure adjusts the fire district’s mill levy rates to accommodate for reductions in property tax revenues due to the Gallagher Amendment.
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It allows the fire district to maintains its current mill levy rates even if residential assessment rates continue to decline. The measure does not increase the dollar amount residents pay in residential property taxes.
Passed in 1982, the Gallagher Amendment set a ratio for property taxes paid statewide. It mandates that commercial property owners pay 55% of property taxes in the state and residential property owners pay 45%. The amendment set a fixed assessment rate of 29% for commercial property, while the residential property tax rate is regularly adjusted to maintain the 45-to-55 ratio.
The amendment was a way to combat rising residential property taxes, but it has led to unintended consequences. Residential property values have outpaced growth in commercial property values, owing in particular to property value hikes in the Front Range. When Gallagher was passed, residential properties were assessed at a rate of 30%. Currently, that rate is 7.15%, according to Leck, with further drops expected next year.
That has meant ever-plummeting revenues for the West Routt Fire District. In 2015, the fire district received $630,000 from property tax revenue. Last year, it only collected $495,000, according to Leck.
The ballot measure essentially freezes the residential assessment rate at the current 7.15% rate, Leck said, letting the district maintain its current budget in future years.
“That allows us to operate at the level we are doing right now for a while,” Leck said.
Oak Creek Fire Protection District also had a special election scheduled Tuesday, but official results have been postponed due to a glitch, according to Chief Chuck Wisecup. The eligible electors’ list the fire district used to distribute ballots did not include property owners who live outside of the district but are registered to vote, Wisecup said.
“We are working on getting ballots out to them right now,” he said.
Wisecup expects to have official results by May 19.
The ballot question asks voters to approve a 4-mill increase in local property taxes, which would boost the fire department’s revenue by about $198,000 annually, according to Wisecup.
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