West Routt Fire asking voters for more funding as revenue from power plant, mine decline
Looming over many taxing districts around Hayden is the closing of the Hayden Station power plant by the end of 2028, which is when a large portion of their tax base could disappear.
But the West Routt Fire Protection District is already seeing the impacts of decreased production in its budget, with Chief Trevor Guire estimating a loss of about $40,000 in funding next year alone.
“Production is down at Twentymile Mine, and some of those special assessments that we receive are going to disappear,” Guire said. “It is going to continually eat away at our budget until we don’t have the money to continue at the same level.”
Between decreased tax revenue from the extraction industry and the increased cost to maintain what Guire referred to as “failing infrastructure” — the firehouse was built in 1980 and is in need of repair, and the district still uses a 1973 Peterbilt fire engine — the district is asking West Routt voters to approve a 3-mill property tax increase on Election Day in two weeks.
At the heart of the request, Guire said, is maintaining the district’s ability to provide services the Hayden community has come to expect.
“I am concerned about taking a step backwards and reducing the level of patient care,” Guire said.
If approved, the increase would start in 2022 and net the district an estimated $350,000 more in funding in the first year. Guire said the current budget totals about $750,000 per year, though it fluctuates based on yearly tax assessments.
The owner of a house in West Routt worth $100,000 would pay $21.45 more per year in property taxes if the measure listed as Referendum 6A on the ballot is approved. The owner of a commercial property worth $100,000 would pay about $87 more in property taxes each year, if 6A passes.
In 2018, Hayden voters approved — in a 610-516 vote — an increased property tax for the district, raising it 2 mills and netting the district about $254,000 more each year.
In a May 2020 special election, West Routt voters approved a measure to stabilize the district’s budget by making adjustments that would counter reductions in revenue imposed by Colorado’s Gallagher Amendment.
But in that same election, a measure to raise the district’s taxing authority by 2 mills failed by just two votes, with 224 for and 226 against. After the votes were tallied, then Chief Dal Leck said he thought it failed because of uncertainly about the budget during the onset of the pandemic.
Right now, West Routt has just one emergency medical technician, who works a 48-hour shift and then has 96 hours off. This puts a lot of added stress on Guire and his assistant fire chief and has stunted any effort to make their response time faster.
“We’re looking to put three people on so we have two on shift 24/7 and can decrease response times,” Guire said. “Sometimes, it takes upwards of seven minutes just to roll the ambulance out the door, and that’s not including getting to someone’s house.”
To run a full fire and emergency medical service response, Guire said they would need four people on an engine and two on an ambulance. The increased property tax ask wouldn’t get the district to that, but it would be enough for them to have two people that could get out the door in under two minutes.
Part of the issue is that the district can’t rely on volunteer EMTs anymore.
“When people go to that length for education, there’s so many jobs out there; they’re fairly unwilling to give it away for free,” Guire said about why finding volunteer EMTs can be difficult. “We’re not alone; this is happening across the country.”
In addition to decreased response time, Guire said he is worried that without more funding, they will burn out the current staff he does have. Guire said he doesn’t want to have to decrease service, dropping to just basic life support or only have cardiac care available when his one EMT is on call.
The firehouse also needs some asphalt work done outside, as well as repairs to interior plumbing and other items that have deteriorated over time, Guire said.
Guire said he is also worried about the statewide ballot measure Proposition 120, which would lower property taxes across the state, decreasing what the district already pulls in, negating revenue gains made in the 2020 special election, he explained.
“We’re trying to be proactive here as our energy industry shuts down,” Guire said. “That burden is going to have to be transferred over on to those of us that are still left here once our energy industry has moved on.”
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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