Snowmass fire district eyes full mill levy in 2015 | AspenTimes.com

Snowmass fire district eyes full mill levy in 2015

Jill Beathard
Snowmass Sun

The Snowmass-Wildcat Fire Protection District is planning to collect the full amount of its mill levy this year, due to additional expenses and the likelihood of it trying to build a new station soon.

Taxpayers in the district, which encompasses all of Snowmass Village, voted in favor of a mill levy increase in November 2012, when the district was struggling to balance its budget even after cuts. However, for the past two years it has not collected the full amount of tax dollars that it is authorized to take.

Last year, for example, the district reduced its collections by 2 mills. The total amount approved by voters is 6.601 mills, meaning that the district saved residents a total of about $1 million. Now the board is planning to either renovate or replace the fire station, which has significant structural and space issues, and wants to put money aside toward that goal, said Fire Chief Scott Thompson.

The board expects that in the next couple of years it will launch a capital campaign to address the issue, said Chairman Bill Boineau. By starting to put money aside now, hopefully "we don't have to go back to the community for as much money when the time does come," Boineau said.

“It costs money to continue to have a great organization. That’s really the bottom line.”
Scott Thompson
Chief, Snowmass-Wildcat Fire Protection District

In addition, the district's insurance costs increased by 9 percent this year, Thompson said. Costs of fuel, electricity and equipment maintenance have gone up, and the district is adding two positions — a deputy chief, who started earlier this year, and a human resources director, who will be hired in 2015. The latter salary will be split with the Basalt and Rural Fire Protection District, as is Thompson's, who acts as joint chief of both departments.

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For every $1 million of residential value, a property owner will pay $159 more in taxes to support the district than last year, he said.

"It is (a lot), and we understand that," Thompson said. "Our hope is that we can rebate down the road."

Because it isn't a revaluation year, property values in Snowmass Village changed very little this year, said County Assessor Tom Isaac.

"Everything's costing more, but what we're bringing in didn't go up any," Thompson said.

The board didn't collect the full amount of the mill levy over the past two years because it didn't want to take more taxpayer money than it needed, Boineau said.

"We were really tightening our belts," he said. "We thought … let's not impose more money on people than we have to."

"They were budgeting exactly what they needed," Thompson said. "But now we need to start expanding. … It costs money to continue to have a great organization. That's really the bottom line."

Merit raises and cost-of-living increases for firefighters are budgeted for next year, as well.

The fire board meets at 8 a.m., Dec. 11, when it will have a public discussion about the 2015 budget. Taxpayers who want to provide input are asked to attend.

jill@snowmasssun.com

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