Our View: Vote ‘yes’ on 2A to support fire, EMS
This November, Steamboat Springs voters are being asked to approve the city’s first property tax in four decades. The two-mill levy would support the city’s fire department and EMS services, and we are endorsing the ballot question.
The process leading up to Steamboat Springs City Council’s decision to place 2A on the ballot was well thought out and involved the formation of a citizens advisory committee, tasked with studying the need and investigating various funding solutions. This committee included commercial property owners, who will be hit hardest by a property tax, as well as other key stakeholders.
And after months of study and discussion, including talk of a 9-mill levy at one time, City Council opted to pursue a more conservative ask as recommended by the citizens committee.
Steamboat is currently one of only seven cities out of 272 in the state that does not have a property tax, and we believe it’s time for voters to change that. A property tax provides the city with a much more predictable source of revenue, and it also requires second homeowners to pay their fair share for city services.
Referendum 2A would be new money used to fund the hiring of additional firefighters. A portion of the revenue, above the cost of adding firefighting staff, would allow the city to begin saving for a new fire station. The tax revenue would not become part of the general revenue fund, and it would not be used to fund existing needs.
In our opinion, the need for additional firefighters is well documented. Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue has not added to its staff since 2010, and during the past nine years, call volume has increased by 42%. This year, calls are expected to surpass 2,500, and the department’s strategic plan has identified a clear need for more staff to handle a rising number of calls, which are driven by population growth and an increase in tourism.
According to standards established by the National Fire Protection Association, 15 firefighters should respond to an actual fire, but now, the city has only eight firefighters to send to a fire call. If 2A should pass, Fire Rescue would be able to send 12 firefighters to the scene, bringing Steamboat closer to best practices.
Additional firefighting staff also means Fire Rescue has more manpower to cover the times when there are concurrent calls. According to statistics compiled by Fire Rescue, about 700 of the roughly 2,400 calls firefighters have responded to so far in 2019 have been concurrent calls, which leads to longer response times and more stress on department staffing, often requiring off-duty firefighters to be called in to assist.
The two-mill property tax is projected to generate about $1.4 million to $1.5 million annually. It will cost residential homeowners $15 a year per $100,000 actual valuation, and because of the Gallagher Amendment, commercial property owners will pay about four times that amount — $58 per $100,000 of actual valuation. The citizens advisory committee indicated they believed local businesses would support 2 mills but no more, and so, we believe this tax does not overburden commercial property owners.
At issue: Steamboat Springs voters are being asked to approve Referendum 2A, a two-mill property tax to provide dedicated funding for fire and EMS services.
Our View: The issue has merit, and we think it deserves voter support.
- Logan Molen, publisher
- Lisa Schlichtman, editor
- Michael Marchand, community representative
- Jim Beers, community representative
The wording in the ballot language is very specific and mandates the tax revenue can only be used for funding new fire and EMS staff and a new fire station. The proposal is not extravagant, and it does not fully fund all that is laid out in Fire Rescue’s strategic plan, but it does allow the city to begin chipping away at the need for more firefighters to handle a steadily increasing call volume.
In particular, the property tax would pay for three additional firefighters in 2020 and four in 2021. And it should be noted that it takes three firefighters to fill one position when you’re staffing a fire station 24/7.
We believe Fire Rescue’s increasing call volume and current staffing level are putting public safety at risk, and we urge city residents to vote “yes” on 2A. This property tax will improve emergency and fire protection services in the city by decreasing response times, especially in the case of concurrent calls, and provide a mechanism for second homeowners to pay for fire protection, which we think is only fair.
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