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Fire districts successful in Gallagher-related initiatives

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By Deborah Swearingen

In a strong statement against the Gallagher Amendment, preliminary results show that the ballot initiatives presented by all South Jeffco and mountain-area fire protection districts will pass.

West Metro, Inter-Canyon, Evergreen and Indian Hills fire protection districts all went for some version of “de-Gallagher-ization,” with Inter-Canyon also asking residents for a 3-mill property tax increase. While results are not yet official, all initiatives are poised to pass with ease.

Though each department varies in size, scope and location, all four cited a concern about the effects of the Gallagher Amendment, which limits the growth of residential property taxes, as a reason for putting forth an initiative. Property taxes are a primary source of funding for fire departments, schools and other governmental bodies.

West Metro Ballot Issue 7C
West Metro voters approved an initiative that will allow the full-service fire agency to adjust its mill levy rate to compensate for a reduction in revenue due to lower residential assessment rate.

Approximately 64,489 voters, or 68.8 percent, approved the ballot question, while 29,299, or 31.2 percent, rejected it.

If the residential assessment rate dropped from 7.2 to 6.1 percent in 2019, as it is predicted to do, West Metro expected to lose nearly $5 million in revenue. Voters have now given the fire district the ability to maintain its current amount of revenue, and thus, its current level of service.

The fire district serves nearly 280,000 residents across 108 square miles in Jefferson and Douglas counties.

Inter-Canyon Ballot Issue 6F
Voters within Inter-Canyon Fire Protection District overwhelmingly supported an initiative to increase property taxes by 3 mills and to lock the district in at its current residential assessment rate of 7.2 percent.

Some 1,598 voters, about 77 percent, supported the initiative, while 477 voters, or 23 percent, voted against it.

The property tax increase results in an additional $7 a month in taxes for a home valued at $400,000. District residents seemed amenable to the increase in a community-wide survey administered by the district earlier in the year. The additional money will be allotted for additional staff, station upgrades and apparatus replacement, according to Chief Skip Shirlaw.

Evergreen Fire Ballot Issue 7A
Evergreen Fire Protection District voters overwhelmingly passed Ballot Issue 7A, which sought approval to allow the district to increase or decrease its mill levy beginning in 2020 and annually thereafter to offset property tax revenue losses associated with the Gallagher Amendment.

The measure passed with nearly 68 percent of the vote, according to returns as of 9 p.m. Tuesday.

Indian Hills Ballot Issue 6H
Likewise, Indian Hills Fire Protection District residents approved an initiative that will allow the district to adjust its mill levy to compensate for any loss of revenue due to a reduced residential assessment rate.

Of those who voted, 442 people, or 71.2 percent, supported the initiative, while 179 residents, or 28.8 percent, rejected it.

If the residential assessment drops as predicted, Indian Hills will have the authority to raise its mill levy in order to continue bringing in the revenue necessary to maintain equipment and provide essential services.

WHAT IS THE GALLAGHER AMENDMENT?
Enacted in 1982 in an effort to limit the growth of residential property taxes, the Gallagher Amendment requires that 45 percent of the total amount of state property tax collected must come from residential property while 55 percent must come from commercial property.

Whenever statewide total residential property values rise faster than commercial property values — as is the case in Colorado in recent years — the amendment requires the reduction of the residential property assessment rate to comply with the 45/55 percentage divide.

Ultimately, the reduction in assessment rate translates into decreased revenue for government and public bodies, including fire districts, which depend on those property taxes to maintain service offerings.

News editor Deb Hurley Brobst contributed to this report.