Carbondale fire district considers tax question
July 4, 2011
CARBONDALE – A projected 30 percent decrease in property tax revenues for next year has prompted the Carbondale and Rural Fire Protection District board to consider proposing a mill levy increase to voters this fall.
“The board has been discussing the situation for the last couple of months, and believes this is a decision that the voters of the fire district should make,” Carbondale Fire Chief Ron Leach said.
A 30 percent decline in property valuations throughout the 320-square-mile fire district, which covers parts of three counties, would mean a substantial hit to the district’s current $2.8 million annual operating budget, Leach said.
“A cut of that magnitude would mean a reduction in fire and ambulance response time, and that older equipment could not be replaced as soon as it should,” he said.
Reductions also likely would affect funding for continuing training and education of paramedics and firefighters, he said.
“Every line item in the budget would be subject to cuts, including personnel,” he said. “In reality, we will need to cut the budget anyway, even with a mill levy increase.”
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The board is prepared to propose a ballot question to increase the fire district’s mill levy enough to maintain the same funding level as the past two years.
“We’re only asking that the amount of funding remain the same, so only the mill levy would be going up,” Leach said.
The district currently operates on a property tax levy of 5.903 mills. Leach said he won’t know the exact amount of the proposed increase until he receives the final numbers from the Garfield County assessor later this summer.
“The board has decided to put this decision in the voters’ hands and tell the truth about the budget crisis,” Leach said. “Fire and ambulance service is a vital community service that must be maintained.”
The Carbondale fire district includes five separate fire stations in Carbondale, Redstone and Marble and the surrounding rural areas, including parts of Garfield, Pitkin and Gunnison counties.
Leach said the district responds to about 1,200 calls per year, most of them ambulance calls. In addition to 18 paid employees, the district has 60 volunteer firefighters and emergency medical technicians.
The fire district is likely to be joined on the November ballot by the Roaring Fork Re-1 School District, which is also preparing a mill levy override question for voters to decide.