Half Funded Service Means Vote ‘No’ On Fire District
By: Ted Williams, No on the Fire District Issue Committee
Voters in the Valley are fully aware of the serious and essential nature of fire protection. We are being asked yet again to create a Fire District, an independent governmental agency. This new Fire District would become wholly responsible for fire protection within the District. Voters are being asked to fund the District with a property tax mill levy. But the mill levy is only half the story.
Why will I vote No on the Fire District? First, because for the Town government providing mandatory fire service should be a top priority– not paying for politically assorted discretionary funding priorities. Police, Fire and Public Works—theses should be funded first and foremost.
Instead of focusing on these essential services, Town government is using various political strategies to promote the formation of a Fire District. The stated problem is that the Town just can’t afford it anymore, the same argument used for the two previous proposals.
The main selling point for the solution is that the current proposal is the most fair to both County and Town residents. This emotional push button can be debated endlessly to no resolve. “Fairness” is in the eyes of the beholder.
That leads me to the second and most crucial issue. The better question than “fairness” is this: would we truly create an independent, well-funded District, or would we be creating more problems in the future?
I studied the ballot. The first question it asks is whether to form a new and independent district. That District would be responsible forever more for funding fire protection in the Estes Valley.
How would the proposed Fire District be funded? The proposed 2010 budget for the Fire District is $996,105.00. (For 2009, the total fire service budget was just $712,819. The Town also budgeted $81,000 for its contribution to the Fire pension fund).
The proposed mill levy will only provide $515,873.00. That’s far short of the money needed to provide fire service. The proposed mill levy is therefore only a half-solution to the problem that arises from the Town’s purported inability to pay for fire service. As stated by the Fire District promoters last week, the Town will “donate” seven percent of its sales taxes to provide the rest of the budget. Yet to have a truly “independent” Fire District, 100 percent of its revenue needs to come from its own resources–not the Town.
We should not adopt a half-guaranteed Fire District. It will only create greater problems in the future. For Town government, it is a full solution to their problem because after 2010, they will have zero legal responsibility for funding fire services.
What about the voters? As a community, we cannot responsibly create a Fire District that has 100 percent of the responsibility but only one-half the necessary funding guaranteed by law. Promises are not enough, especially when the Town government claims over and over that it cannot afford to pay for fire service.
Let’s look at what will result from our vote. By law, we are not being asked to vote on well-intentioned yet non-binding political promises. We are really being asked to free the Town Board from one of its many responsibilities– and an important one.
Town Board members come and go. The funding priorities of Town government will change. The moral force of the current Board’s promises cannot bind a future board.
Fire protection must be guaranteed. Today it is, primarily through sales tax receipts. Vote No and that service will still be guaranteed after the election.
Next week I’ll explain how based on the Fire Committee’s own written statements, a Yes vote could require the mill levy to increase five or six-fold in the future.
52% Guaranteed Funding Means Vote No. Vote No on the Fire District proposals.