Property tax increase wins by a landslide

Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017 10:53 PM
Hal Doughty, chief of Durango Fire Protection District, toasts in celebration at Seasons Rotisserie & Grill on Tuesday night after learning voters approved a mill levy increase to help pay for increasing fire staff, new fire stations and a training facility.
Hal Doughty, chief of Durango Fire Protection District, celebrates with supporters on Tuesday night after learning voters approved a mill levy increase to help pay for increasing fire staff, new fire stations and a training facility.

A property tax increase for the Durango Fire Protection District won by a landslide Tuesday.

About 73 percent of city voters supported the increase, and 70 percent of La Plata County voters in the fire district supported it, according to unofficial results. Election results become official after county canvass boards meet.

About 4,000 city residents cast a vote on the question, and about 4,800 county residents voted on the issue.

“This is a huge statement from the community that they support what it is that we’re doing and they believe in us,” Fire Chief Hal Doughty said Tuesday night.

City and county voters inside the district saw two different questions on their ballots, but they approved equivalent tax increases.

In San Juan County, six votes were cast on the question as of about 8:40 p.m. and all of them were in favor of the tax increase. A small portion of the fire district extends into San Juan County.

Residents will pay higher property taxes in 2018 for additional fire staff, new fire stations and a training facility.

Doughty did not expect to win by a such a large margin. But he said he had heard positive feedback during the campaign.

“The community believes in us and they trust us, and they think we’re an organization that’s worth supporting,” he said.

He attributed the fire district’s victory in part to its transparency about its financial challenges.

“We made a whole-hearted effort as a team to talk to as many people as we could,” Doughty said.

The fire district asked for the tax increase because public funding and ambulance revenue is not keeping up with the growing number of emergency calls.

If the tax increase had not passed, the district would have had to spend more than $500,000 from savings, Doughty said.

Now that the new tax passed, residential property owners will pay an additional $18 per $100,000 worth of value in their home.

The owner of a $400,000 home would pay an additional $72 per year.

Commercial property owners will see an increase of $72.50 per $100,000 of value. If a person owns commercial property worth $500,000, they would pay an additional $362.50. The tax will draw in $3 million annually.

The increase was needed in part because of the 1982 Gallagher Amendment. The state constitutional amendment lowers the assessment rate for homes when residential values increase faster than nonresidential property values.

The additional funding will allow the fire district to work on responding to emergencies more quickly.

Eventually, the fire district plans to increase the number of people working each day from 18 to 26, Doughty said in previous interviews.

But that will require new facilities to house the additional staff.

The highest priority construction projects for the district are Station 2 near the intersection of Veterans Way and Camino del Rio, Station 3 on 32nd Street, Station 7 in Three Springs and a new training facility in Bodo Industrial Park.

The downtown fire station is the district’s highest priority. The district’s leadership plans to restart negotiations with the Durango City Council to determine where a new station will be built.

While negotiations on the downtown station are underway, it is possible the district could soon start construction at Station 3 on 32nd Street to house full-time staff members to better respond to nearby emergencies, Doughty previously told The Durango Herald.

In addition to the new tax, the fire district is also still interested in asking the Durango City Council and the La Plata County Board of County Commissioners to approve new fire impact fees on new construction.

Those fees would cover 24 percent of the future construction and equipment needs of the district.

Vote results

Results of property tax questionsCity of Durango Ballot Question 2A
For: 2,916
Against: 1,070
Durango Fire Protection District Question 4A
For: 3,356
Against: 1,427
Total voter turnout26 percent
10,450 ballots cast
40,067 registered voters