Vail Daily Endorsement: Paying more either way, so support fire tax
Vail, CO, Colorado
The Eagle River Fire District fights one battle more than any other: Explaining just what it is and who it serves.
To start, this is the fire district that stretches from Tennessee Pass to Wolcott, including Edwards. There is no “Edwards Volunteer Fire Department,” as some might believe.
The district also doesn’t include Vail, which has its own fire department. We’ve gotten phone calls and emails from people expressing shock and outrage that the Eagle River district would be asking for more taxpayer money right after building a fire station in West Vail and renovating the one in Vail Village.
Eagle River and Vail have nothing to do with each other. Vail is funded by a municipal government flush with cash right now, while Eagle River is funded almost entirely by property taxes. Those tax collections have fallen by 20 percent since 2010, and are expected to drop another 20 percent in 2014.
If that happens, the district’s operating budget will drop from a high of roughly $7 million in the good years to just more than $5 million now to a projected $4 million or so in 2014.
The district has cut its administrative staff by 70 percent, and at least one of the district’s four stations – in Cordillera, Edwards, Avon and Minturn – is closed just about every day because there aren’t enough people available to run all four. A fifth station, in Beaver Creek, is funded by an annual contract for service.
We opposed last year’s ballot issue, believing it would have restored boom-time revenue to the district, and didn’t recognize the hard times seen in the private sector.
We still have reservations about any tax increase these days, but district officials this year have a different proposal – one that initially raises the property tax rate, then adjusts it to keep revenue at 2010 levels. As property values rise, the tax rate falls, keeping revenue constant.
We’re also persuaded that revenue will, in fact, drop enough that the district will have to permanently close two of its fire stations. That’s going to leave fewer firefighters available for any given emergency, and will lengthen response times enough that crews will often be forced to protect other property instead of saving a burning structure.
Even with all that, we’d be tempted to say, “Times are tough – this is the service we can afford.”
But one factor more than any other has pushed us into the supporters’ camp: the cost of insurance.
If the district closes two stations, property insurance in the district is going to get more expensive. Every company has different evaluations when policies are written, but going from four stations to two is going to raise the red flag of risk at all those companies.
And when that flag goes up, so do rates. Sometimes, companies will simply refuse to write or renew a policy when risk factors change.
We have no way of knowing just how much insurance rates will rise for an individual residential or commercial property owner.
But it’s a near-certainty rates will go up, and it’s likely that the rise in insurance rates will be near, or more than, the proposed tax increase.
Tax increases are often a dollars-and-cents proposition.
We’re convinced the district has made its case this time.
Vail Daily Editorial Board
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A Nov. 30 to Governor Polis and the Eagle County Commissioners from Beaver Creek Resorts Company – as well as the towns of Vail, Avon, Eagle and Minturn – requests a variance program which would allow businesses to remain open.