West Metro Fire refers measure to the November ballot

The department wants to stabilize its budget, without raising taxes.

Posted 9/25/18

Pam Bales knows firsthand how crucial it is for emergency response teams to reach their destination as quickly as possible. Four years ago, her son fell off a three-story balcony. He landed on his …

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West Metro Fire refers measure to the November ballot

The department wants to stabilize its budget, without raising taxes.

Posted

Pam Bales knows firsthand how crucial it is for emergency response teams to reach their destination as quickly as possible. Four years ago, her son fell off a three-story balcony. He landed on his face, and suffered from a severe traumatic brain injury. He spent the next seven weeks at Craig Hospital recovering. Now healthy, he recently graduated with an associate’s degree from Red Rocks Community College.

Bales credits the West Metro Fire Rescue team for getting her son to the hospital in a timely matter. She even tracked down one of the firemen who helped her son to thank him in person.

“You don’t really know that you need (public safety services) until it happens to you. It’s emotional,” Bales said. “It can be your wife, your son, your daughter. My son is a miracle kid.”

Bales is supporting West Metro Fire Rescue’s November ballot initiative that would allow it to adjust its mill level in order to avoid losing funds in case there is a drop in the residential assessment rate.

West Metro Fire Rescue is worried about the consequences of the Gallagher Amendment, part of the Colorado Constitution that sets the state’s residential property tax valuations and assessment rates. The residential rate is expected to drop from 7.2 percent to 6.1 percent next year. That drop would cause West Metro Fire Rescue to lose $5 million, and that is why the district wants to “de-Gallagherize.” The department’s 2018 budget was a little over $68 million.

West Metro Fire Rescue Chief Don Lombardi is concerned that a loss of funds would have consequences on the department’s work.

“We’re not raising anybody’s taxes. We’re just asking to maintain what we get from (residents) today,” Lombardi said. “It will allow us to provide the same services that we do today. We know from talking to our community that having good response times is very important.”

The department’s emergency calls have increased by 50 percent over the last 10 years, largely due to an increased population and an aging community. By keeping the residential property tax rate at 7.2 percent, West Metro Fire Rescue says it’ll be able to continue to provide services that the community needs. If not, the district will have to close at least one firehouse and cut staff, leading to longer response times.

Response times and less staff aren’t the department’s only concerns. If the tax rate decreases, West Metro Fire Rescue says that it’ll have less funds for equipment for firefighters and lifesaving medical equipment. Last year, the department received over 34,000 emergency calls, and over 70 percent of those calls were for emergency medical services.

“We have had to make hard choices to contain costs and be mindful of our commitment to provide our residents with the best fire, emergency, medical and educational services. However, we simply cannot sustain our service levels in the face of the impending cuts,” Lombardi said.

The Jefferson County Republican Party has yet to take a side on this issue as it finishes its voter ballot guide. However, the party still has some thoughts on the issue.

“There are over 3,000 special districts in Colorado. If they all de-Gallagherize, it may be best if this is dealt with on a statewide basis,” said Jefferson County Republican Party Chairman Joe Webb.

West Metro Fire is a full-service fire department that serves over 250,000 residents. It covers over 108 square miles in Jefferson County and Douglas County, and it has 17 stations.

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