Carbondale fire district asks voters for tax hike | AspenTimes.com

Carbondale fire district asks voters for tax hike

John ColsonPost Independent Aspen, CO Colorado

CARBONDALE – Voters living in the Carbondale & Rural Fire Protection District are being asked to boost their property tax rate by nearly a third in order to keep the fire department’s services at current levels over the next two years.A ballot question in the Nov. 1 general election proposes a “mill levy override” to boost the fire district’s tax rate from its current 5.903 mills to a new rate of 8.0 mills.But after two years, the tax increase is to sunset, or expire, and the tax rate will return to 5.903 mills.A “mill” is equal to $1 in taxation for every $1,000 in assessed valuation of property, as established by the county assessor’s office.Fire Chief Ron Leach said Wednesday that the cost of the proposed tax hike, to a residential property owner, would be $14 per $100,000 of market value.So, if a home were to have a market value of $300,000, the tax bill for that property from the fire district would be increased by $42.A mill levy of 8.0, Leach said, is what is needed to maintain the district’s annual income level and avoid cuts in staffing, equipment, maintenance and response time.Leach said that property values throughout the 320-square mile district fell by 28 percent over the past three years, due to the ongoing national recession, and are expected to remain at that lowered level for the next couple of years, at least.The district, which covers parts of Garfield, Pitkin and Gunnison counties, received $2.7 million in tax revenues for the 2011 tax year, barely enough to support the district’s annual budget of $2.8 million.Losing a third of the district’s taxable property value will translate into an estimated loss of $775,000 in annual revenues, which Leach said would necessitate cutting up to five positions from the department’s roster of 20 paid employees.The increased reliance on the department’s force of 75 volunteers, he continued, probably would mean longer response times to ambulance and fire calls.”The volunteers are not here [at the station] all the time. We can’t get out of the barn as quickly,” he said, if the responders have to wait for volunteers to travel in from their homes.Another consequence of budget cuts, he said, would be delays in the replacement of aging equipment, and increased maintenance costs to keep that aging equipment operational.”We buy the best equipment money can buy,” he explained. “The taxpayers in the district deserve the best. We don’t buy used equipment, and we replace our equipment when it’s needed. We hate to extend the life of our equipment because of budget constraints.”In addition to the equipment issues, Leach said, the department’s training budget would be cut. “We would not be sending anybody to paramedic training next year,” Leach said.The department prides itself on sending personnel to training centers every year to keep them up to date in the latest fire, rescue and medical advances, he said.Stressing that the quality of care in the ambulance service, and the professionalism of the firefighters would not be permitted to falter, Leach said budget cuts would mean unavoidable reductions in some aspect of the department’s work.”Taken all together,” he said, “it comes out as an overall reduction in the level of service in the Carbondale Fire District program.”Registered voters in the district should receive their ballots in the mail-only election shortly after Oct. 11, according to Garfield County Clerk and Recorder Jean Alberico.Those who do not, she said, should check their registration with the Secretary of State’s office, at http://www.govotecolorado.com, and if necessary, reactivate their voter registration status.jcolson@postindependent.com

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