The West Metro Fire Protection District will ask voters to approve a property-tax increase of 3 mills for the first time in eight years.
The issue will be on ballots in a special-district mail-in ballot on May 6, which will be available to all registered voters and property owners within the fire district eligible to vote in the state.
“We’re asking voters for this so we can maintain the high level of service we offer,” Fire Chief Don Lombardi said. “We have made significant cuts since 2009, reducing expenditures by 13.8 percent.”
According to information provided by the district, if approved, “the measure would raise taxes around $2 per month for every $100,000 of actual property value and generate approximately $8.6 million annually for the fire department — restoring property tax funding to levels before Jefferson and Douglas Counties’ assessed values fell and allowing the District to chart a financially secure course for future services to the constituents.”
Lombardi said that a driving force behind the measure is the fact that property taxes, which is the district’s main source of income, has been declining and not rebounding the way the district hoped. Since 2009, property tax has declined by 4.81 percent, and the district responded by creating new plans for keeping costs down.
“Firefighters have taken a 3 percent pay cut, and all civilian support staff salaries have been frozen for the past four years,” he said. “We planned to see some rebound in the property values, and we just haven’t seen it.”
To keep offer the service residents have come to expect, the district has dipped into its general funds reserve to the tune of $4.5 million since 2008. According to information from the district, the mill levy “would allow the District to establish the general fund balance to previous levels to restore financial sustainability within the general fund. Additionally, a 3 mill increase will allow the District to reestablish appropriate funding to budgets, establish a current pay schedule for both firefighters and civilian support staff, begin to fund selected long-term capital needs, and establish resiliency for long-term future economic change.”
Lombardi said the district has proved it is a good steward of the public’s funds, citing its April 2013 refinancing of $22,970,000 of District General Obligation debt, as well as bringing the interest cost down from 5.17 percent to 2.33 percent. The lower rates means taxpayers will pay significantly less on the debt.
Firefighters are also trained as paramedics, which means the district doesn’t have to spend money by calling two separate units to an emergency.
“The national accreditation we’ve received as a district shows that we are providing top service to residents,” Lombardi said. “We understand that the economy is tough for everyone, but the mill will helps us get back to where we need. If we didn’t need this, we wouldn’t ask for it.”
Firefighters will be out in the community explaining the levy, and giving a balanced view on the issue in the coming months, Lombardi said.
“It’s really going to come down to services and the level our residents expect,” he said. “We need to get back to a stable base to provide services.”