Glenwood voters OK fire tax increases
November 6, 2013
GLENWOOD SPRINGS — City and rural fire protection district voters in the Glenwood Springs area agreed in Tuesday's mail ballot election to increase local property taxes to maintain funding for fire protection and ambulance services for the next five years.
With most of the ballots counted as of 10 p.m. Tuesday, Question 2A on the city of Glenwood Springs ballot, requesting a new 2-mill levy on property, was passing 54 percent to 46 percent.
A majority of voters in the surrounding Glenwood Springs Rural Fire Protection District were running nearly 59 percent in favor of Ballot Question 5A, which proposed a 2-mill increase in the rural property tax rate.
Combined, the measures will raise $499,000 per year to help maintain existing service levels. Both tax measures included a five-year "sunset" clause, meaning the new tax will end after that time unless extended by voters.
“It helps us return a little more to normalcy, so we can continue to staff these rural fire stations.”
Glenwood Rural Fire District board
Glenwood Springs Fire Chief Gary Tillotson said the sunset provision likely made a difference in convincing voters to approve the tax hike.
"This just means that we will now have the funding to continue to do the business the way we have been," Tillotson said, pointing to a combination of factors in recent years that caused a shortfall in funding for both city and rural fire and ambulance services.
"There aren't any significant increases included in those [new] revenues," he said. "As much as we would like to plan for growth, that wasn't the goal we were trying to achieve with this funding."
The new city tax is expected to raise an extra $369,000 annually. Some of that money will go to make up an ongoing funding shortfall in billing receipts for ambulance services.
The rural fire district mill levy increase will bring in an additional $130,000 per year in property taxes to make up a portion of revenues that have been lost with the recent decrease in property valuations.
"Ninety percent of the people I talked to when I was out explaining the proposal understood the issue, and said there was no question they were going to vote for it," said Bill Swigert, who sits on the Glenwood Rural Fire District board.
"It really is just a matter of maintaining the current level of services," he said. "It helps us return a little more to normalcy, so we can continue to staff these rural fire stations."
Tillotson acknowledged that if property valuations recover faster than anticipated, there's a possibility the fire department will begin taking in more revenue within the next five years than needed to maintain current service levels.
If that happens, "We have one of two options," he said. "We can try to rebuild some of the reserves that have gotten severely depleted in recent years, or we can consider giving some of that money back to taxpayers [through rebates]," Tillotson said.
That decision would be up to Glenwood Springs City Council for city taxpayers and to the rural fire board for taxes collected outside the city.