Rising home values in Denver are crippling small rural Colorado fire departments | AspenTimes.com

Rising home values in Denver are crippling small rural Colorado fire departments

Colorado Divide: A $450 million property tax cut will help urban homeowners but hurt rural fire departments already struggling stay afloat

Brian Eason
The Denver Post

Granby volunteer firefighters from left to right Josh Anderson, Joe Russ, middle, and Chris Moore, right, train with fire hoses outside the fire station Nov. 21 in Granby. Small fire departments across the state are bracing for property tax cuts triggered by hot home values along the Front Range. The Granby Volunteer Fire Department (est. 1939) is staffed by volunteer and resident firefighters responding out of two stations and operating twelve apparatus. The department services 150 square miles and responds to between 170 to 190 calls a year all with a budget of less than $600,000 a year. The department responds to all kinds of calls including wildland fires, motor vehicle accidents, and hazardous materials responses. The fire department has only 4 paid staff which includes Fire Chief Ron Thompson, two assistant chiefs and 1 administrative person.

In a mobile home park where the Eastern Plains meet the Denver suburbs, the Sable Altura fire station sticks out like a sore thumb from its modest surroundings.

Its fire engines are state-of-the-art — shiny trucks you'd find at one of the big metro fire departments 20 miles west. The trouble is: Years after replacing its run-down vehicles with the help of grant dollars, the ever-shrinking district can't afford to hire firefighters to operate them.

District officials insist they make do with what they have, but what they have isn't enough to reliably respond to emergencies 24/7.

Wages are low. Turnover is high. Volunteerism is down. Costs are up.

And for Sable Altura and other rural fire districts facing a financial pinch, it's only going to get worse.

Booming home values along the Front Range are triggering cascading statewide property tax cuts, providing relief to urban homeowners but squeezing government agencies in rural areas where property values weren't growing in the first place. The reason: a little-known property tax-limiting provision of Colorado's state constitution.

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Read the full story online at http://www.denverpost.com