CARBONDALE — Some of the 15,000 residents of the Carbondale & Rural Fire Protection District have announced that they are not happy about the idea of having the fire department’s tax rate increase significantly if voters approve Ballot Question 4B on the Nov. 5 ballot.
Fire district official say the tax hike is needed to keep up the current levels of response and protection, and Fire Chief Ron Leach will be explaining the tax measure at tonight’s town board meeting.
Some, though, see the measure as injurious to their personal finances, or unwarranted.
“This is their third request in 12 years,” protested longtime area resident Denise Moss, who argued that her current tax bill for fire district services is “almost $400 a year, compared to $1,300 for all of Re-1 (the Roaring Fork School District,)” which she noted supports “13 schools, thousands of children, hundreds of teacher salaries and maintenance on buildings.”
The question, number 4B on the ballot, asks voters to approve a tax rate increase that will bring an additional $1 million a year into the district’s coffers starting in 2014, and the tax hike would be in effect in perpetuity for all intents and purposes.
The district expects to spend $3.2 million this year in its operations and maintenance funds, according to the district website, compared to about the same amount in 2012.
Approximately $2.2 million of that 2013 estimate, according to Fire Chief Ron Leach, is in salaries and benefits for the 22 paid employees of the district, most of whom are on the ambulance crews.
The district is hoping to make up for what it says has been a 40 percent drop in property values over the last five years, starting in 2008 with a global recession said to be the worst economic slump since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
The tax hike would bring the district’s “total authorized mill levy for operations and maintenance purposes” to 12.038 mills, from the district’s current mill levy of 8.169, according to the Garfield County Assessor’s abstract report for 2012.
According to the district’s written statement in support of the request, the board of directors estimates that the tax hike will mean an additional tax bill of $31 per $100,000 residential property value, over last year’s tax bill. According to Leach, the owner of a home valued at $300,000 in 2013 could expect to pay $194 for its Carbondale fire district bill. That amount would increase to $287 for 2014, if the tax hike were approved, Leach said.
The tax question also seeks to perpetuate a special tax of 2.233 mills passed by the voters two years ago but due to expire next year thanks to a “sunset” clause.
“We thought it was a good idea to do a sunset two years ago,” Leach said. “We were still in the middle of the recession then, and we really had no idea how long it would take to recover.”
The latest proposal does not have a sunset clause.
“We want to fix this funding problem for the long term now, so we’re not having to go back to voters every two years,” Leach said.
Like Moss, Carbondale Trustee Allyn Harvey questions the need for such a move this year, and questions the need to make the tax hike permanent.
“I feel like the district hasn’t made a clear case about how much money they need and why they need it.” Harvey said Monday. “There’s been no real conversation ... for the broader community.” He said the district may have held small-group talks with some residents, but he feels it needs to make its case in a much more public way.
“I’m encouraging people to vote no on this question, and to urge the fire district to come back to us again next year,” he said.
Both Moss and Harvey were angered by what they see as the district’s attempt to scare the voters into approving the tax hike by maintaining that the district’s ISO (Insurance Services Office) rating could decline if the ballot measure were rejected.
The district’s ISO rating stands at 5 on a scale of 10 (10 being the worst), in terms of the district’s ability to protect the life and safety of residents.
Leach said he has been doing all he could to inform taxpayers about the district’s tax hike measure, speaking to local civic clubs, on KDNK FM radio, and to local newspaper reporters.
Leach will give a presentation at the Carbondale Board of Trustees Meeting, tonight, which begins at 6 p.m. at Town Hall, 511 Colorado Ave.
“We want to fix this funding problem for the long term now, so we’re not having to go back to voters every two years”