Voters say ‘no’ to fire district tax request
AVON, Colorado – Voters Tuesday rejected a proposed property tax increase for the Eagle River Fire Protection District.
The proposal was a response to a giant hole in the district’s 2012 budget, due to a big decline in local property values. District officials said the drop in property values – and, therefore, property tax revenue – would have chopped about $1.7 million from the district’s 2012 budget. The 2011 budget was just more than $7 million.
District officials said cutting that much from the budget would mean staff layoffs, and, perhaps, the part-time closure some of the district’s fire stations. District chief Charles Moore talked about the possibility of keeping some stations open part-time, rotating crews between those stations.
The proposal would have raised roughly $1.8 million per year, and left the district’s budget at 2011 levels until 2019. If tax revenues hadn’t rebounded by then, the district would have to take another proposal to voters.
Ed O’Brien, president of the fire district’s elected board of directors, said the board didn’t see any alternatives to asking for money.
“We went to the voters because we felt it was the right thing to do,” O’Brien said before the votes were counted. “If they say ‘no’ today, it’s because we haven’t done a good job explaining the facts.”
Earlier this election season, O’Brien acknowledged that the tax proposal was being greeted with plenty of skepticism by the people he’d talked to. As the election season went on, O’Brien said he still heard plenty of negative reactions.
“People who are receptive to the facts were willing to listen,” O’Brien said.
Avon resident Corrie Crane voted for the proposal, saying she has many friends who work for the district, and didn’t want to see those people, or their co-workers subject to layoffs.
But most voters apparently agreed with Minturn resident Sheila Lopez, who said she voted against the proposal.
“It’s just not fair to raise taxes on people right now,” Lopez said.
Before the votes were all counted, but with the outcome essentially settled, the district released a statement from O’Brien:
“I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t say we (the Board and I) are deeply disappointed in the failure of our temporary mill levy increase. But we understand how commercial property owners and homeowners feel and we know the Vail Valley hasn’t been immune from the effects of the economic downturn.
“We’ll do everything we can to continue to provide the best level of fire service response in our district. We’re in the midst of drawing up the 2012 budget now, and we’ll be as reasonable as we can in setting that budget, in view of the circumstances.
“We’re doing a lot of analysis right now on what a suitable level of response should be, and while that may involve difficult decisions, we will also be very mindful of the risk of imperiling lives and property. Give us some time to work this out, and then we’ll tell our district residents what our answer is.”
Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or firstname.lastname@example.org.