‘Yes’ on 4B

Voters in the old Hermosa Cliff and Animas fire protection districts have the opportunity to end years of confusing, expensive and redundant management of emergency services. And they can do so at no cost. It is a chance they should seize upon by voting “yes” on Referred Issue 4B.

For starters, the bottom line: If approved, 4B will not result in anyone paying more taxes. In that the proposed 4B mill levy is based on the existing Animas rate, those taxpayers will see no change. Hermosa Cliff taxpayers will see a slight decrease.

Once more: If 4B passes, no one will pay more taxes. And through time, the savings involved in eliminating redundant boards, bookkeeping and administration should lessen the need for future taxes and improve service.

Any confusion about that can be traced to history. The Hermosa Cliff and Animas districts informally merged with the Durango Fire Department 11 years ago under the auspices of Durango Fire & Rescue Authority. In 2006, the voters approved the creation of the Durango Fire Protection District to replace all of those entities.

At the same time, though, they rejected the districtwide mill levy that would have funded it, leaving the newly formed district a shell.

The voters did so because the city has always funded emergency services – and most everything else – out of its general fund, which is primarily sales-tax revenue. As such, while the proposed mill levy would have meant little change for anyone else, it would have amounted to a major tax increase for city residents. For the same reason, the voters rejected that idea when asked again in 2011.

The current plan gets around all that in an ingenious fashion. The idea is to unify the Animas and Hermosa Cliff districts under the already existing Durango Fire Protection District, enact a uniform mill levy and dispense with the boards, taxes and other trappings of the old districts.

That would leave one board, one set of books and one administration. The city would then contract with DFPD for emergency services at roughly the same rate it has been paying into the current fire authority. No taxpayers pay more, while everyone sees greater efficiencies. More money should be available for maintaining the level of service.

The one unfortunate aspect to all of this is that because the Durango Fire Protection District has itself never been funded, and has such never collected a cent in taxes, under the law any taxpayer money that goes to it is a tax increase. And on the ballot, that is how it is referred to – no matter that no one’s taxes will be raised. The ballot language specifically says that the proposed mill levy will take effect “only upon the elimination of the mill levies of the Animas Fire Protection District and Hermosa Cliff Fire Protection District.”

That confusion is at least fathomable. Other objections are less easily understood. In fact, they seem rooted primarily in a mix of nostalgia, resentment and city-county divisions.

Take, for example, the idea that the Animas Fire Protection District would “lose” its equipment, fire stations and other assets. Nothing of the sort would happen, any more than a home buyer could be said to “lose” the down payment at closing. All the property would remain and would still belong to the people of the fire district. All that would be lost would be unneeded bureaucracy.

That a few folks object to the dissolution of an entity in which they feel a proprietary interest is no reason to block an eminently sensible proposal. Vote “yes” on Referred Issue 4B.

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