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Inter-Canyon Fire officially pursuing November ballot question

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By Deborah Swearingen

During a special meeting Friday, Inter-Canyon Fire Protection District officially decided to pursue a property tax increase in the upcoming general election.

In addition to a 3-mill property tax increase, which results in an additional $7 a month in taxes for a home valued at $400,000, Inter-Canyon voters will face a question about “de-Gallagher-izing” the district. If approved, this ballot measure would lock the district in at its current residential assessment rate of 7.2 percent in an effort to avoid the impact of the Gallagher Amendment.

Property taxes account for about 90 percent of Inter-Canyon’s budget, and Chief Skip Shirlaw as well as the board of directors worry about the implications if the residential assessment rate drops to 6.1 percent in 2019 as it’s expected to do. Furthermore, a decline in volunteerism and an increase in service calls also contributed to the district’s concern.

The worries aren’t new, however, and the decision to pursue a ballot initiative has been a long time coming for Inter-Canyon. The board hired Turn Corps, Denver-based political consulting firm, at the end of the 2017 and has conducted a community-wide survey, held community meetings and created informational tools for its voters.

The survey results suggested more than 80 percent reported support for a 3-mill increase, but there was continued discussion in last week’s meeting about whether this would, in fact, generate enough revenue for additional staff, station upgrades and apparatus replacements — goals for the immediate and long-term future set by the chief.

While going for a 3-mill increase may slow some of the station upgrades, Shirlaw said it’s the responsible amount to go for when considering residents that may struggle with or be opposed to a tax increase.

“We know that 3-mill is going to cover the two more important things — personnel and apparatus that we need to replace,” Shirlaw said in response to some of the board’s concerns. “ … We’re really thinking about a lot of those fixed income residents that we have.”

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.

Contact reporter Deborah Swearingen at dswearingen@evergreenco.com or 303-350-1042. Follow her on Twitter @djswearingen.