by Rick Langenberg:
The sole local issue on the Nov. 6 ballot will deal with a plan by the Northeast Teller County Fire Protection District (NETCFPD) for a 3.94 mill tax hike.
If approved, the extra money, estimated at about $615,000 a year, would be used to offset the impacts associated with declining property values and lower tax revenue for the district. According to Tyler Lambert, the chief of NETCFPD, the district has struggled to maintain the many current services that it currently provides. The fire protection district serves about two-thirds of the county.
With the extra money, the chief believes the district would be able to have newer equipment and replace some older vehicles, which are at least 30-years-old. Plus, full-time employees could keep benefits and work overtime, under the tax hike plan. In addition, proponents of the tax hike say the levy would enable the district to maintain historic levels of funding for fire department operations and administration. They also cite the importance of having a good insurance rating, a designation that could be impacted if the agency continues to struggle financially.
Lambert has frequently addressed the Woodland Park City Council and other civic leaders in describing the financial plight of NETCFPD. He has expressed concern about the inequity with the Downtown Development Authority funding and future projects that could impact the agency with no extra revenue to offset these new developments. Unlike other entities, practically all of the funding for the fire district comes from property taxes. A small portion is generated from fighting wildland fires. And with lower property tax revenue, this scenario has posed many financial challenges.
For the last four years, the agency has lost $132,000. This represents a substantial 7.6 percent decline in revenue. But as with any tax plan in Teller County, the district’s bid faces a tough test.
However, on the upside, proposals for emergency service and fire department-related tax increases have fared much better than any other plans. Proponents of this ballot initiative also cite the critical importance of maintaining good response times for fires and medical aid calls and protecting properties and lives.
This measure, 5A, is the only local ballot issue that Teller voters will decide on this November. By comparison, many lower Ute Pass and El Paso County residents will deal with a bevy of local issues, concerning funding for the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority and the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office and term limits for several elected positions. The upcoming election is expected to generate a heavy turnout due to interest in the presidential contest.