Midvalley fire district seeks raise in mill levy | AspenTimes.com

Midvalley fire district seeks raise in mill levy

Midvalley voters will be asked next month if they are willing to pay higher property taxes in return for improved emergency medical response.

The Basalt and Rural Fire Protection District is seeking an increase in the mill levy, which determines property-tax amounts, from 3.255 to 4.950 mils. (The district has an additional mill levy to pay off bonds that were approved by voters in 1997 to buy additional fire-fighting equipment.)

The tax increase would boost revenues for the operations budget to $1,695,000 annually.

For residential property owners, the increase would add $15.50 per $100,000 of assessed valuation per year.

The extra revenues from the proposed tax hike would help the district in a couple of financial areas, the most visible being advanced life support.

“What we’re trying to do is expand our services,” said Basalt Fire Chief Scott Thompson.

The district currently has one paramedic and two emergency medical technician-intermediates who alternate to try to provide round-the-clock advanced life support coverage. But those three workers cannot provide all the coverage necessary, said Thompson. Volunteers are needed to provide some of the coverage.

The district is proposing to use some of its property tax increase to hire four full-time paramedics or EMTs.

“It’s something we perceive we need because of the calls for service,” said Thompson.

Emergency medical assistance is one of the greatest demands in the growing midvalley fire and ambulance district, he said. The district transported or treated about 90 patients per year in the mid-1980s. Last year the figure was 375, according to Thompson.

The district also wants to add a full-time fire inspector to make sure new development meets code and to assist the fire marshal with other duties.

The district currently has six full-time staffers: the fire chief, the fire marshal, the emergency medical services director, a maintenance director and two administrators.

In addition to adding personnel, the property-tax increase would ease a financial pinch on the existing operations budget. Colorado’s tax-limiting TABOR Amendment prevents revenues from rising more than 5.5 percent per year. However, average annual growth in the fire district is about 7.5 percent per year, according to Thompson.

The district wants voters to approve a property-tax increase for one year, then it will stick to the tax-limiting formula of no more than 5.5 percent growth once again.

Thompson said the district has little choice but to turn to increased property taxes for revenues. Property taxes supply 80 percent of its operating budget. There is limited potential for collecting revenue from other sources, such as ambulance service.

The current budget arrangement also makes it difficult for the district to save funds for a long-range replacement plan for firefighting vehicles. Thompson said he doesn’t want the district to get in a position where it would have to approach voters on an emergency basis to replace fire engines and other equipment.

Instead, he wants the district to save to replace equipment on a staggered schedule. Paying for the replacement through savings rather than through bonding is more cost-effective, he said.

The election will be held Tuesday, May 7, with voting at the fire station in El Jebel only. Absentee ballots are also available through May 3.

In addition to the property-tax question, three positions on the board of directors are up for election. Running for the two four-year terms are incumbents Ed Van Walraven and Jim Stryker and challenger Barb Forrest, a volunteer with the district.

Running for a two-year seat are incumbent Hunter Lovins and challenger Robert Woods.

Voter information can be answered by election official Jennifer Lemke at 704-0675.

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