West Metro Fire

Mill levy issue heats up

Impact of new tax questioned

Posted

Voting for the West Metro Fire Rescue special district election closes on May 6, and one of the key issues voters need to decide on is whether or not to approve a property tax increase of 3 mills.

This is the first mill increase the district has asked for in eight years, and while supporters say the measure is needed to keep West Metro’s services at the levels residents have come to expect — especially since receiving the Commission on Fire Accreditation International’s accreditation — while others claim the increase is too high and the impacts on the community haven’t been properly communicated.

“Being internationally accredited means something, and we tried to be as conservative as possible when looking ahead,” Chief Don Lombardi said. “We looked at several different models, and probably should have done 4.5 mills, but with the economic climate, that didn’t seem right.”

“The district hasn’t provided an accurate picture of the negative impact this will have on the community,” said Natalie Menten, a Lakewood resident and member of the RTD board of directors. “The impact on businesses is going to be profound and that will be passed on to the consumers.”

One of the main issues of contention is how much money the increase will cost.

Those against the increase describe it as a 25 percent tax increase of the fire district’s current 12.382 mill levy.

But supporters say in terms of the tax bill, property owners will see a much smaller increase. According to Lombardi, the average home has around 100 mills from various entities, like school and water districts, so when the three mills are added to that total, it is only a 3 percent increase.

According to information provided by the district, if approved, “the measure would raise taxes around $2 per month for every $100,000 of actual property value and generate approximately $8.6 million annually for the fire department — restoring property tax funding to levels before Jefferson and Douglas counties’ assessed values fell and allowing the district to chart a financially secure course for future services to the constituents.”

Lombardi said that a driving force behind the measure is the fact that property taxes, which are the district’s main source of income, has been declining and not rebounding the way the district hoped. Since 2009, property tax has declined by 4.81 percent, and the district responded by creating new plans for keeping costs down.

To keep offer the service residents have come to expect, the district has dipped into its general funds reserve to the tune of $4.5 million since 2008. According to information from the district, the mill levy “would allow the District to establish the general fund balance to previous levels to restore financial sustainability within the general fund. Additionally, a 3 mill increase will allow the District to reestablish appropriate funding to budgets, establish a current pay schedule for both firefighters and civilian support staff, begin to fund selected long-term capital needs, and establish resiliency for long-term future economic change.”

Menten and those against the increase said that while firefighters fill a valuable roll, the increase is a permanent tax solution to a temporary tax problem.

“We haven’t seen enough about the negative impact on businesses, and with the higher costs businesses will have to pay, they will be able to hire fewer people and their products will cost more,” Menten said. “They’ve said a lot about all these cuts they make, but the average salary is still around $79,500, plus benefits, which doesn’t seem like it’s getting cut.”

Ballots are due by May 6, and for more information on the issue, visit .