The Fort Lewis Mesa Fire Protection District has filed paperwork for two ballot measures in November.
The first measure is a mill levy increase, and the second measure is a proposal to “de-Gallagherize,” or remove, the district from the reigns of the Gallagher Amendment of the Colorado Constitution.
The amendment was enacted in 1982 in an effort to maintain a constant ratio between property tax from residential property and commercial property. Each year, the state adjusts property tax rates in order to maintain a proper balance, but this negatively affects rural communities, said Fire Chief John Lee.
“In rural areas, where we don’t have any or very little commercial, there isn’t a balance,” Lee said. “The de-Gallagherization is to try to limit the effect that metropolitan counties don’t experience.”
Because of the Gallagher Amendment, the department lost about $30,000 last year and is expecting to lose around $40,000 this year, he said. The department doesn’t wish to make a profit, but instead keep the revenue for the department.
“For a district like ours, it becomes imperative to take it to the voters directly and say, ‘Can we just keep the money that we get now?’” Lee said. “We don’t want to have to eliminate services or close a fire station or something like that.”
Because of the lost money, the department has had to pull from its reserve funds, which can’t be sustained much longer. The mill levy increase is to help the department make up for the losses acquired over the years because of the Gallagher Amendment, Lee said.
The department is requesting an increase of 2.5 mills, which translates to an $18 increase per $100,000 on the home, Lee said. The average home in the district is worth $300,000.
“We’re hoping that a very moderate mill levy increase will allow us not to use our reserves and be in a very good place going forward,” he said.
The department covers the largest land acreage in La Plata County at 357 square miles and responded to 227 calls in 2017. The department has two full-time members, two part-time members and 25 volunteers.
“It’s a double-edged sword,” Lee said. “It costs money to do that, but we’ve got more people than we’ve ever had before.”