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Inter-Canyon Fire considering property tax increase

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By Deborah Swearingen

Inter-Canyon Fire Protection District is inching closer to asking its residents for a property tax increase or to de-Gallagher-ize the district in the November election.

The first option would increase property taxes for Inter-Canyon’s 6,000 residents. The latter would lock the district in at its current residential assessment rate of 7.2 percent and help it avoid the impact of the Gallagher Amendment.

The Gallagher Amendment, enacted in 1982, limits growth in residential property tax rates. Property taxes remain a primary source of funding for Inter-Canyon, accounting for about 90 percent of its budget.

A variety of factors, including a decline in volunteerism and a potential decline in Inter-Canyon’s budget, influenced Chief Skip Shirlaw’s decision to ask that the board of directors consider language for a ballot measure.

“We look at the residential assessment rate next year. They’re talking about dropping that to 6.2 (percent.) That could be nearly an 18 percent reduction in our budget next year,” Shirlaw said. “If we expand that out five years, that’s nearly $900,000.”

The board has not yet decided how to proceed. Instead, the five Inter-Canyon board members, along with the chief and any members of the public who choose to attend, will discuss potential ballot language in the district’s July meeting. An official ballot measure would need to be solidified by August, according to Shirlaw.

Community members rarely attend Inter-Canyon Fire board meetings, so there was no one present on May 31 to react to a potential property tax increase.

However, a community-wide survey, conducted by Denver-based political consulting firm Turn Corps, suggests Inter-Canyon residents would be amenable to a small mill levy increase. According to results, more than 80 percent reported support for a 3-mill increase, which would result in an additional $7 a month in taxes for a home valued at $400,000.

Planning for the future

Based on the results of the survey, Shirlaw prioritized the district’s needs and created a one-, three- and five-year plan for Inter-Canyon should a ballot measure prove successful in November.

The one-year plan takes a look at the need for more full-time employees. Inter-Canyon plans to hire 1.5 full-time employees, including a wildland fire specialist. In three years, the district wants to replace two aging wildland engines. Lastly, in five years, the fire protection district hopes to begin updating stations 1, 3 and 4.

“As the chief pointed out, our stations were designed really as garages for apparatus, not as living space for firefighters who maybe wish to remain here while they’re on duty,” said spokesman Dan Hatlestad, pointing to the lack of administrative space, drinking water and showers.

“So if you come back and you’re covered with blood and vomit, you get in your car and you drive home,” he added. “ ... It’s not a real pleasant thing.”

In addition to being unpleasant, it’s unsafe for firefighters. With the increased focus on cancer in fire service, it’s important for firefighters to wash their gear and their bodies as quickly as possible after a fire.

If a ballot measure is approved, the plan is likely to be initiated in early 2019. If it fails, Shirlaw expects the district will not have the funds to move forward.