EAGLE COUNTY - The Eagle River Fire Protection District is asking voters this Tuesday to decide whether closing fire stations is an acceptable alternative to a mill levy increase.
That's basically what the ballot question comes down to, said John McCaulley, fire district board member.
More than 90 percent of the district's revenue comes from property taxes. The 2010 property value reassessment dropped the district's revenues by about $1.8 million, or 25 percent. In 2014, another reassessment means another 20 percent drop - about $1 million - is
District officials say that will force the closure of two of the district's four fire stations. When they asked for the mill levy increase last year, they talked of temporary closures - which have been going on this year almost daily - but this time the closures would be permanent.
"It's pretty dire," McCaulley said of the circumstances the district faces.
According to the Citizens Campaign for 5A, the effect of passing 5A would equal about $75 per year for a $250,000 home; $150 per year for a $500,000 home; $225 per year for a $750,000 home; and $300 a year for a $1 million home.
The campaign compares the $12.50 it would cost monthly for a $500,000 home to an iTunes album, a pair of Smartwool socks, a bottle of wine, a movie ticket, Netflix subscription or subscription to the Economist.
The district and 5A supporters are behind a much larger campaign effort than last year. McCaulley said the initiative got lost on last year's ballot.
A website, www.erfpdvoteyes.com, outlines all of the details about the proposed mill levy increase, including an important point that the increase will only remain in effect until 2010 revenue levels are achieved (taking into account growth and inflation). So, the increase is not a permanent increase - it's only as temporary as district board members and officials hope the current economic situation is.
But in a still recovering economy - an economy some fear could come crashing down again - asking voters for a tax increase is tough. Voters have had to tighten their own budgets and make tough financial decisions in recent years, and some argue government needs to adjust accordingly rather than ask for more money.
In a letter last week to the Vail Daily, Ralph Dockery, of Avon, wrote in opposing 5A. He cited budgetary constraints in every government agency in the county and said the district should consider becoming more efficient instead of asking for more money.
"There are four separate fire protection entities along the Eagle River corridor. Four fire departments cost more to administer than one," Dockery wrote. "If these fire districts were to consolidate into one department, just as the ambulance districts chose to do, I believe service could be delivered without a tax increase."
But McCaulley said the district has not only become more efficient, he said the district has done everything it can do. He pointed to more transparency since the last election, including the district's budget and financial audit available for the public to see at www.erfpd.org. Last year, the district didn't do a good job of telling voters where costs had been cut, he said.
Gentian Nuzzo, of Avon, didn't vote for the mill levy increase in 2011 but is voting for it this year. He wrote in a letter of support that the district has made changes "in order to become more financially
"An increase in my homeowner's insurance would be a slight annoyance, but I worry about what would happen if the station nearest my house was closed and my loved one had an emergency and I called 911 for help."
The district has frozen hiring, cut salaries, cut its budget, gone through layoffs, backed off maintenance and equipment purchases - everything, McCaulley said.
"We have done everything within our power," McCaulley said. "Now, we're ultimately asking voters to tell us what they want."