Guest opinion: What’s the rush on Cdale fire district tax vote?
As many of you may be aware, the Carbondale and Rural Fire Protection District is in the process of developing a Master Plan for the next 10 years. A significant part of the planning process has been to seek the input of the citizens of the Fire District. One of the methodologies to do this has been public meetings and a survey. As president of the fire district board, Gene Schilling has written articles for the local newspapers and been on the radio seeking citizens’ help by completing the survey.
Mr. Schilling has also expressed his personal belief that the fire district needs to seek a mill levy increase (additional increase in property taxes) at the November general election. I would like to offer my thoughts on a mill levy increase this November. First, I would like to state there are multiple factors and, in my opinion, it is way too early to make a decision about a mill levy increase at this time, and here is why:
First, the fire district is in the process of a $90,000 Master Plan Study. This process will not be completed until early August at best. How can a tax increase be proposed when the citizens, the Master Plan Steering Committee, and the district board have not made decisions on what directions will be taken in the next 10 years?
Second, the fire district board appointed a Master Plan Steering Committee to review the process and make recommendations to the board. The steering committee will not receive all of the draft plans by the two consultants until July 29. The review process will not be completed by the steering committee until early August at best.
Third, the 2016 property valuations determination is still in process. Individual residential property valuations increases are widely different. I have met with individuals whose increases have ranged from 12 percent to as high as 84 percent. These valuations are in the protest period with the three county assessors, Garfield, Gunnison and Pitkin, and the preliminary assessed valuations will not be available to the fire district till Aug. 25. These valuations are what the fire district uses to determine the 2016 budget. This is complicated, but do all of us know we need more taxes for the fire district if we don’t know how much the fire district will be getting for 2016?
Fourth, Roaring Fork School District is planning on asking the voters for approval to issue bonds and increase the mill levy to pay for those bonds. This process is still in the development state. What mill levy increase the school district will be asking for has not been determined. I am concerned that the local governments will be asking for too much at the same time.
Fifth, there will be a question on the ballot from the state of Colorado dealing with a tax refund or permission to expend funds on specific projects and groups. At this time it appears to be a very complex ballot issue. Does the fire district want to compete for the attention of the voters in November for this issue?
Sixth, on my 2014 property tax statement, due in 2015, are 11 different governmental programs with taxing authority. Will all 11 of these governmental taxing agencies take full advantage of the increased property valuations or will some of them curtail their expenditures for 2015 and reduce the amount of taxes they are able to collect? Colorado Mountain College has already stated it will maintain its tuition levels for residents and take full advantage of the increased property valuations. Which other governmental agencies utilize the full valuation increase, including the largest beneficiary of the increased valuations, the Roaring Fork School District?
Seventh, the fire district board approved the staff of the district to complete a comprehensive wage and benefit survey. Are the wages and benefits of the Carbondale and Rural Fire Protection District competitive with the other fire agencies in the Roaring Fork Valley, or do adjustments need to be made? Will this survey result require additional funds or reduced funds? It will not be known till the survey is completed and the fire district board reviews it.
Eighth, since the 2004 Master Plan was developed, all of the board members and management have continued to serve the district in some fashion. Using my crystal ball, I forecast that all of the board members and upper management of the district will leave the organization. I hate to admit it, but a majority of us are getting old and will be moving on. The 2015 Master Plan must be written so that the future district board and management will need to rely on the documents and not the institutional memory of us old guys. So what is the hurry?
The Carbondale and Rural Fire Protection District is at a critical turning point. The citizens, the Master Plan Steering Committee and the fire district board are making decisions for the next 10 years. That year is 2026. The United States will have three presidential elections by the time this plan’s life is over. So what is the hurry, and why do we need to vote on more taxes in November? If needed, the fire district board can offer the voters a chance to review their tax levy in May 2016 without the competing issues that they will be facing in the November election.
Carl L. Smith is a board member of the Carbondale and Rural Fire Protection District.
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