Of three local issues on the 2018 general election ballot, the conservation initiative is gaining the most attention, but residents might do well to pay attention to ballot issue 6A, known as the Gallagher Revenue Stabilization ballot measure. Supporters say without it, Chaffee County faces continued, long-term degradation of funding for the Chaffee County Fire Protection District.
A “yes” vote, supporters say, would allow the Chaffee County Fire Protection District to increase or decrease its current and future mill levies, thus providing a measure of security and a means to fight the increasing danger of wildfires. Without it, the district will face a continued funding decrease, with forecasts projecting a potential funding loss of $68,000 in 2019 alone.
While positive statements regarding the need for and protection of funding for fire districts abound, there don’t appear to be many who criticize the ballot issue once they understand why the need exists.
In fact, not a single negative comment about ballot issue 6A was filed before the constitutional deadline to include it on the county’s analysis of the 2018 ballot proposals.
To understand the significant support for what is, in effect, an agreement to increase taxes, it is necessary to understand the genesis of the state of Colorado’s Gallagher Amendment. Passed in 1982, Article X, Section 3 (otherwise known as the Gallagher Amendment ) sets a mechanical adjustment to the Colorado tax code, designed to maintain a constant ratio between the property tax revenue that comes from residential property and from business property. It specifies that the Colorado General Assembly adjust the assessment percentage for residential property to ensure that the percentage of the aggregate statewide valuation for residential property in relation to other taxable property would remain the same as that in the prior year, except for increased valuation for assessment attributable to new construction and to increased volume of mineral and oil and gas production. Also exempt – agriculture.
This means that year after year, the percentage coming from residential property and available for special districts such as fire districts has been in continuing decline. The decline continues, even as population has grown, and non-agricultural and oil and gas production have become a smaller portion of the state’s economic output.
The Chaffee County Fire Protection District relies on property tax revenue for 90 percent of is annual budget. The 6A initiative would allow funding for the fire district to be maintained at current property tax revenue levels, preventing further decline. In 2017, the fire district lost $43,000 in property tax revenue and is projected to face another $68,000 decline for 2019. Supporters of 6A say a fire district cannot continue to suffer these kinds of revenue losses and stand ready to fight the kind of wildfires that the region has experienced recently, such as the Hayden Pass Fire in Fremont County and the Weston Pass Fire in Park County.
Firefighting isn’t the only emergency services entity that relies on the county’s property tax to function. Fire suppression, emergency medical services, water and mountain rescues, accident response, hazardous materials and disaster responses are all provided by the fire district on a 24/7 basis. Firefighters say that in any given emergency situation, every person needing help hopes for, and expects, a rapid response.
The Chaffee County Fire Protection District is large, covering more than 1,000 square miles and 9,500 residences. As the number of residents and the number of residential and rental units continues to increase year by year, and as tourism in the Arkansas River Valley continues to grow, ballot issue 6A asks residents to support funding to maintain the level of service residents expect.