North Routt fire district goes to voters for additional funding
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — With persistent declines in tax revenue, residents in North Routt County are being asked to provide more funding for the growing community’s fire department.
“We’re really down to crisis with the district,” said Chuck Vale, who is advocating for the tax increase as part of a residents group called Friends of North Routt Fire Protection District.
The fire district has sent out more than 600 ballots as part of a special election. The district needs to receive the completed ballots by Tuesday. They can be mailed or dropped off at The Clark Store.
In addition to voting in new board members, voters are being asked whether to increase the mill levy to hire more staff and whether they support additional taxes to offset future financial impacts from the Gallagher Amendment.
Gallagher has negatively impacted the budgets of many taxing entities like rural fire protection districts
In North Routt, Gallagher has resulted in a 28-percent decrease in property tax revenue compared to 2010, or about $70,000.
“For a small district like we have up here, that’s a huge amount of money,” said Vale, who lives in North Routt and works in emergency management for the state.
Gallagher has been part of Colorado’s constitution since 1982, and it limits how much tax burden is placed on homeowners versus commercial property owners.
Like many small fire districts in Colorado, North Routt has been relying on its savings to backfill its budget.
This year, North Routt will pull $20,000 from its reserves to beef up their general operating budget to about $185,000.
If voters in North Routt approve the Gallagher ballot issue, the district will be able to collect additional property taxes annually to offset the impacts from Gallagher. In 2017, the impact from Gallagher was about $3,700.
The other tax question on the ballot is a general property tax increase that would generate about $141,000 each year.
The owner of a $300,000 home would pay $200 to the fire district each year instead of $113.
The money would be used to hire a second, full-time firefighter as well as two, part-time firefighters.
Vale said the fire department cannot rely solely on its fire chief and 14 volunteers anymore.
“We have great volunteers, but they’re struggling to be available 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday,” Vale said.
North Routt hired its first full-time employee after a successful ballot measure in 2007.
“Since then, our call volume has doubled,” Chief Mike Swinsick said.
In addition to working at large fires wildfires in 2017, the fire district responded to more than 130 calls.
People with questions about the election issues can call Vale at 970-846-9358.
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