West Routt fire district seeks bigger station, more reliable funding in upcoming election
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Two measures on the May ballot in West Routt County would provide funding to expand the fire station and address decreasing revenue for the area’s fire district.
The measures come amid an increase in calls for service for the West Routt Fire Protection District and a need to find a more reliable source of income, Fire Chief Dal Leck said.
Over the last five years, the district has seen a 37% increase in call volume, according to Leck. To meet demand, five full-time firefighters have been added to the crew, along with four part-time firefighters and a handful of volunteers.
The proposed renovations to the fire station would provide living quarters for firefighters. The personnel who live at the station would buttress the full-time staff, Leck said, enhancing the district’s response capabilities. Currently, the fire station has makeshift living quarters comprising several Murphy beds in the building’s offices.
“It’s nothing formal,” Leck said.
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To fund renovations, one of the ballot measures would levy a 2-mill property tax for 10 years starting in 2021. The fire district also plans to apply for a state grant to help pay for construction. If the grant is not approved, the mill levy, if passed, would be void, according to Leck.
The second ballot measure seeks to adjust the fire district’s mill levy rates to accommodate for reductions in property tax revenues due to the Gallagher Amendment.
Passed in 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 measure was intended to combat rising residential property taxes, but it has led to unintended consequences.
As Leck explained, 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 translated to revenue cuts for the West Routt Fire Protection District. In 2015, the fire district received $630,000 from property tax revenue. Last year, it only collected $495,000. In the past, the town has resorted to mill levy increases to make up for the lost revenue, ensuring the fire district could fund its operations.
If passed, the ballot measure would essentially freeze the residential assessment rate at the current 7.15% rate, Leck said, allowing the district to maintain a more stable budget in future years.
The measure would not increase the dollar amount paid in residential property taxes but would allow the fire district to keep its current mill levy rates even if residential assessment rates continue to decline.
“That way we don’t have to go back to the voters every five years to ask for a tax increase,” he explained.
Other fire districts in Routt County, including Oak Creek Fire Protection District and Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue, passed similar measures in 2018. West Routt Fire District tried to pass the same measure that year, but it failed.
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