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West Metro Fire seeks approval for 24% tax increase

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By Ramsey Scott

Residents of the West Metro Fire Protection District are being asked to approve a 24 percent tax increase in May’s election, along with voting for four board seats up for election.

The 3-mill increase is being sought to ease some of the financial strains the department has experienced since the recession in 2009, said West Metro spokeswoman Michelle French. 

“We’re really asking voters for this so we can maintain the high level of service that we offer. We have made significant cuts since 2009, reducing our expenditures by 13.8 percent,” French said. “We’ve cut to the bone. … And now we’re at the point where we need assistance.”

The increase would represent about $72 more annually in taxes on a home worth $300,000, bringing the total bill to about $367. West Metro predicts the 3 additional mills, raising the district’s total levy to 15.382 mills, would raise $8.6 million annually. 

West Metro Fire Chief Don Lombardi said the department eliminated several administrative positions, firefighters agreed to a 3 percent pay cut, and pay freezes were implemented for civilian staff and administration to balance the budget.

“We were able to use reserves to maintain the high level of service that we have. We’ve made cuts in our budgets as well,” Lombardi said. “Our total expenditures during that five-year period, we were down about 0.15 percent. We maintained the line on expenditures.”

Lombardi said some of the additional revenue would be used to replenish the department’s reserves, while the rest would be put into budget categories on a priority basis, including salaries. 

The current contract with the district’s union, the West Metro Firefighters, ends this year. Lombardi said the union has told him members understand the new revenue would have to be spread throughout the department and not just go to salaries. 

“They get the fact that we cooperate with each other, that it’s not a free-for-all on this money,” Lombardi said. 

A representative of the union did not return a request for an interview by press time. 

Several of the candidates for West Metro’s board have come out against the tax increase. 

“First off, it’s a permanent fix for a temporary problem. It’s an almost 24 percent tax increase with no sunset for maybe a shortfall that’s been going on for the past few years,” said Fred Clifford, a District 1 candidate. “If anything, it should be temporary, with some kind of a built-in sunset, and it should be a much lower increase.”

The West Metro Fire Protection District covers 110 square miles, including Lakewood, Morrison and parts of unincorporated Jefferson County. The district employs 326 full-time firefighters and 55 civilian staff at 15 stations. 

 

Contact Ramsey Scott at ramsey@evergreenco.com or 303-933-2233, ext. 22, and follow him on Twitter @RamseyColumbine. Check www.columbinecourier.com for updates.