Colorado lawmakers launch bipartisan effort to repeal Gallagher Amendment

Conrad Swanson, The Denver Post
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, CO – MAY 29: Glenwood Springs firefighter/paramedics Arnold Nimmo, station #71, left, and Dan Walsh, right, negotiate a rapid in their rescue craft on the Colorado River at the Glenwood Springs Whitewater Park during a training session 29, 2020. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

The vision of an empty fire station in Glenwood Springs keeps Fire Chief Gary Tillotson up nights. Should a fire break out or someone need medical aid, help would have to come from further away — meaning much longer response times when people can least afford them.

The vast majority of the fire department’s calls are for medical emergencies like heart attacks and strokes, Tillotson said — situations in which the chances of death escalate dramatically if responders don’t arrive within five to seven minutes.

But if the department’s $4 million annual budget dwindles any further, that vision of empty fire stations and delayed response times will become a reality.

The coronavirus pandemic has already meant a costly drop in sales tax revenue for the Glenwood Springs Fire Department, and the economic devastation the pandemic is wreaking — combined with a state law called the Gallagher Amendment — means local governments’ property tax revenues will suffer for years to come.

“It’s an insurmountable obstacle,” Tillotson said. “We work on a relatively meager operations budget anyway and with the current devastation to our sales tax, we’re already having to cut back and basically we’re furloughing our firefighters. Any further cuts are going to reduce service.”

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