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January 7, 2013
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Glenwood Springs, rural fire district may ask for extra taxes for emergency services

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado - The city of Glenwood Springs may team up with the Glenwood Rural Fire Protection District in asking voters next fall for separate property tax increases to cover funding shortfalls for emergency services.

An ongoing gap in funding for the rural district is tied to a cost-sharing arrangement in an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) between the district and the city.

The IGA calls for the district to cover 25 percent of costs associated with service calls in the rural areas outside Glenwood Springs. However, a drop in property valuations in recent years has meant the district has been unable to meet that obligation.

The district's board has been hoping to convince city officials to join the newly formed Colorado River Fire Rescue Authority, which it believes would help bolster the rural district's financial standing.

But City Council has so far been hesitant to sign onto the new multi-agency authority, which includes the Burning Mountains and Rifle fire protection districts, saying there aren't enough fiscal advantages for the city at this time.

Following a work session between City Council and the fire district board last week, the entities agreed to continue working to renegotiate the IGA in an attempt to address the approximately $20,000 annual funding gap.

Part of that effort will likely include asking voters in the rural district next November to increase the district's property tax mill levy. The rural district primarily includes the Four Mile and Three Mile areas, the Highway 82 corridor south of Glenwood, the north end of Spring Valley, No Name and Canyon Creek.

City voters may also be asked to increase the in-city mill levy to support an even bigger operational shortfall for ambulance services.

Since the recession hit in 2008, reimbursements for ambulance services have dwindled, according to Glenwood Springs City Manager Jeff Hecksel. The city recently had to supplement about $250,000 from the general fund to cover that lack of reimbursement, he said.

"Obviously, we have some revenue issues that we need to address too," Mayor Matt Steckler said at the Jan. 3 work session, suggesting the city and rural fire district could team up in presenting a case to voters.

"If we work together, it becomes a clear and simple story to tell as to why we're asking for this," Steckler said.

The Glenwood Springs Rural Fire District's fiscal woes did lead to a recent downgrading of the district's bond rating, as determined by Fitch Ratings. The rating fell from "Stable" to "Negative," according to a recent article from the Reuters News Service.

The downgrading relates to the district's 2013 operating budget gap, an inadequate mill levy, and uncertainty about consolidating services with the new fire authority, according to the article.

Glenwood Springs acting Fire Chief Gary Tillotson said the bond rating only applies if the district were to seek a new bond issue for capital upgrades, which isn't being contemplated at this time. The existing 2000 bond issue is not affected, he said.

"Those bonds are as sound as ever," Tillotson said. Only about half of the district's current 6.399 mill levy goes to cover payments on the bonds, which still have seven years before they are to be paid off.

"Short of some catastrophic event where the assessed valuation would have to fall to a really low level, those bonds are secure," Tillotson said.

jstroud@postindependent.com


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The Post Independent Updated Jan 7, 2013 01:15AM Published Jan 7, 2013 01:13AM Copyright 2013 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.