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West Metro contemplating ballot initiative in November

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By Deborah Swearingen

West Metro Fire Rescue, joining the likes of mountain-area fire protection districts, is contemplating a ballot initiative that could help it avoid the effects of the Gallagher Amendment.

If the state residential assessment rate drops from 7.2 percent to 6.1 percent next year, as it is predicted to do, West Metro would lose $5 million, according to Chief Don Lombardi.

“That loss will mean the fire district will have to delay buying safety equipment for firefighters, put off buying life-saving medical equipment for the people we serve, or simply cut service,” Lombardi said.

Lombardi is hopeful state legislature will solve the problem, but until then, West Metro is looking into a few options, including a version of “de-Gallagher-ization” that would allow it to maintain the current assessment rate of 7.2 percent.

“Over the past 12 years, our calls have increased more than 50 percent,” Lombardi said. “Maintaining our current funding ensures the department can quickly respond to life-and-death situations.”

West Metro Fire is a full-service fire department covering more than 108 square miles in Jefferson and Douglas counties. According to its website, it serves nearly 280,000 residents and has crews at 17 stations.

The fire district’s board of directors is set to make a final decision on election matters during a special meeting held at West Metro’s administrative building, 433 S. Allison Parkway. The meeting is set for 7 p.m. Sept. 5

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.