Basalt fire department seeks tax increase |

Basalt fire department seeks tax increase

BASALT – The folks in the midvalley who are in the business of helping those in need now need a bit of help themselves.

The Basalt Fire Protection District is asking residents to approve a mill-levy increase to help maintain firefighting and emergency medical services. The district tightened its purse strings and dipped into its reserves in a measured, cautious manner, but now it needs an infusion of revenue, according to Bob Guion, president of the district’s board of directors.

“We could try to outlast the recession, but at this point, that’s not possible,” said Fire Chief Scott Thompson.

The fire district depends on property tax for about 92 percent of its revenues. Property values in the district fell between 25 and 45 percent during the recession. The district’s revenues from property taxes are off 37 percent from pre-recession levels.

And government revaluations of property – which lag behind market conditions – are expected to be adjusted down again in May. Lower property values mean lower property tax revenues. That means taxing districts will collect lower amounts of property tax revenues in 2014 and 2015.

Guion said the board cannot keep dipping into reserves indefinitely. Good financial planning requires that reserves be kept at a certain level, and legally the district must maintain a reserve. The district also can’t avoid capital improvements forever, after deferring them the past five years. The budget has been flat since 2008.

“We’re not in an emergency,” Guion said. “We’re trying to be proactive. We’re trying to find a solution before it becomes an emergency.”

Voters will be asked to increase the district’s mill levy by 3.05. That would increase the tax rate from the current 4.95 mills to 8 mills.

Here’s what it means to taxpayers: The tax rate would go from the current $39.40 per $100,000 of home value to $63.88 per $100,000 of value. So a resident of the district with a home value of $500,000 would pay $319.40 per year in property taxes to the fire district if the hike is approved Nov. 6.

Thompson said the district’s five-member board of directors is fiscally conservative and required his department to make the cuts it could. The department relies on 46 volunteers to bolster its paid staff of 13. The paid staff has been cross-trained to cover other duties. One position was cut after the recession hit in 2008, and another employee was moved out of fire-prevention programs.

The biggest belt tightening has been deferred vehicle purchases and a “flat-line budget” for the sixth year going into 2013, Thompson said. An ambulance was purchased via a grant, and the district purchased a used Sheriff’s Office vehicle to provide to the deputy chief of emergency medical services.

“We’re not asking for 100 percent of what we’ve lost,” Thompson said. “We’re asking for 80 percent of what we’ve lost.”

If voters reject the request, the department will continue to offer the services the best it can, but cuts will be required, according to Thompson. The district leadership would come up with a new plan and go back to voters in November 2013, he said.

The proposed budget for 2013 cannot assume that voters will pass the tax hike on Nov. 6. As proposed, the district will have $1,676,128 in tax revenue and $1,808,653 in total revenue. It anticipates dipping into reserves for $265,341 to cover expenses of $2.07 million.

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