Gypsum Fire ballot question builds big early lead
November 6, 2018
EAGLE — Voters passed ballot questions from both the Greater Eagle Fire Protection District and the Gypsum Fire Protection District by sizeable margins on Election Day.
Both districts asked their voters for relief from the restrictions of Colorado's Gallagher Amendment. And after one of the driest and busiest wildfire seasons in the local region, voters soundly agreed to provide it.
Greater Eagle fire
The promotional materials for the Greater Eagle Fire Protection District's ballot measure 6A communicated a straightforward message — residents were voting for their own safety.
Final, unofficial election results showed they believed that was, indeed, what was at stake.
With a total of 3,778 votes cast, there were 2,592 in favor and 1,186 opposed.
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"The No. 1 thing I would like to say is thank you," Eagle Fire Chief Doug Cupp said.
During the past three years, Cupp noted that district firefighters have both responded to more calls and spent a significantly longer time on the scene when they do respond. But if that trend continued and if ballot question 6A had failed, the Eagle fire department would be literally asked to do more with less.
Back in 2010, the Greater Eagle Fire Protection District's annual budget was $2.9 million. In 2018, the budget is $2.2 million. The reason why is Colorado's complicated Gallagher Amendment.
"Gallagher has been such a difficult issue for us," Cupp said. "This helps us to solve a statewide issue that has been a big challenge."
Gypsum Fire Protection District officials were worried their complicated ballot question might not resonate with voters.
Apparently they didn't need to.
The final, unofficial results in Eagle County show that with 2,471 votes cast, the ballot question was passing with 1,867 in favor and 664 opposed. The district also covers a portion of Garfield County, and those final results were not available at press time. However, the outstanding votes were not numerous enough to overturn the result.
"We have heard nothing but support this election season," Gypsum Fire Chief Justin Kirkland said.
Kirkland said the election means the district will be able to continue with business as usual.
"It just gives us the ability to keep the promises we made in 2016," he said.
Two years ago, district voters approved a property tax increase with the understanding the additional money would beef up the paid firefighter corps and replace aging equipment.
But before the department could even allocate those dollars, they disappeared courtesy of Colorado's Gallagher Amendment.
The two local fire districts were among several entities feeling the same funding pressures. Fire protection districts in Summit County, Carbondale, Basalt and Grand County presented their own Gallagher ballot questions this fall.
Approved by Colorado voters in 1982, the Gallagher Amendment governs the way homes are appraised for property tax purposes. It mandates that the amount of property taxes collected on residential properties must be lower than the amount of property taxes collected on nonresidential property. Specifically, Gallagher stipulates that residential property taxes reflect 45 percent of the state's total property tax revenue. Nonresidential property taxes comprise the other 55 percent.
The law complicates matters for small, residential property tax-dependent entities such as the local fire districts. The 45/55 split is a statewide calculation, and right now it reflects the residential building boom that is happening along Colorado's Front Range. But the local districts haven't seen the residential growth that is spurring the statewide assessment rate decline, and the entities don't have large enough nonresidential bases to offset the lower residential tax rates.
In 2017, the state's residential properties were assessed at 7.96 percent. In 2018 and 2019, Gallagher dropped that rate to 7.2 percent. In 2020 and 2021, the residential assessment rate is expected to drop to 6.11 percent.