The Basalt Fire Department plans to ask voters to approve a property tax increase in November to make up for the loss of revenues caused by the recession and slow recovery.
"We're not asking for more money than we ever had. We're asking to replace the money we lost because our assessed values have gone down," said Fire Chief Scott Thompson.
It's a familiar story in Eagle County. Starting this year, the Eagle River Fire Protection District has lost about 25 percent of its property tax revenue - virtually its only source of steady income - because of falling property values in the valley. Facing a drop of about $1.7 million from its $7 million budget in 2011, district officials last year asked voters for a property tax increase that would have kept the district's revenues at 2011 levels through 2019.
Before the election, district officials said the drop in revenue might result in firefighter layoffs and station closures, but Eagle County voters still said no.
The assessed values of residential property took a dive of anywhere from 25 to 45 percent in the mid-Roaring Fork Valley during the recession. Because of the delay in reevaluations by the state government, taxing districts didn't start feeling the pinch of reduced property taxes until last year.
The Basalt and Rural Fire Protection District's revenues from property taxes fell about 37 percent, said Bob Guion, president of the board of directors.
"We think that will continue to go down," he said.
Real estate experts have told the fire district to expect the assessed value to drop another 20 to 30 percent at the next revaluation, which will affect property taxes collected for 2014 and 2015.
The fire department, like most special taxing districts, is almost entirely dependent on property taxes. It charges fees for transporting medical patients in ambulances.
Guion said the district needs to increase revenues or consider dropping services. It can't make do with current revenues and offer the same level of service, he said.
Ironically, while revenues are falling, calls for service are increasing. There were 20 percent more calls in 2011 and another double-digit increase appears likely for this year, Thompson said.
To get out of the quandary, the fire district's five-member board of directors recently voted unanimously to pursue the tax hike, Guion said. The move was recommended by a special committee comprised residents of the fire district and board members.
"We need to have relief from our taxpayers," Thompson said.