The Lewis-Arriola Fire Protection District will ask voters for a mill levy increase in the November election to stabilize its budget.
The volunteer fire department currently has a mill levy of 3.09 mills and is seeking an increase of 1.41 mills, which would bring the total mill levy to 4.5 mills.
The district is hosting an open house on Oct. 20 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the main station, 22145 Road S, for citizens to tour the station and ask questions.
Chief George Deavers said the district is asking for the increase because general property tax revenues for the department have decreased by 44 percent from 2016 to 2018. The decrease is a result of reduced home values due to the Gallagher Amendment and a drop in revenue from Kinder Morgan carbon dioxide production.
“Our budget dropped from $700,000 to $439,000, and our calls for service keep going up,” Deavers said.
A complex property tax system in the state is negatively impacting rural special districts, he said.
Under the Gallagher Amendment, 45 percent of the total amount of state property tax collected must come from residential property, and 55 percent of the property tax collected must come from commercial property.
The amendment mandates that the assessment rate for commercial property, which is responsible for 55 percent of the total state property tax burden, be fixed at 29 percent. The residential rate, on the other hand, is annually adjusted to hold the 45/55 split constant.
Because of skyrocketing home values on the Front Range, the residential tax rate was dropped statewide to stay within Gallagher’s ratio requirements. In Montezuma County, the residential tax rate recently dropped from 7.9 percent to 7.2 percent and is expected to drop further to 6 percent in 2019.
“The request for a mill increase is to backfill those losses so we continue the needed level of services,” he said.
The Lewis-Arriola Fire Protection District is an all-volunteer department and does not collect fees for responding to emergency calls. It currently has four stations, 29 volunteer firefighters and EMTs, and the only rescue dive team in Montezuma County.
Deavers said the district is on track to receive 200 calls for service this year, up from 165 calls last year. It is responding to more vehicle accidents on U.S. Highway 491 and Colorado Highway 184 and has seen an increase in crashes on county roads too.
The district also responds to structure fires and provides mutual aid for local fire districts. Lewis-Arriola responds to 40-60 wildland fires per year, usually started by lightning.
The district covers Lewis-Arriola, Yellow Jacket, Goodman Point and a portion of McElmo Canyon.
Deavers said the funding from the mill levy increase would be used for basic operating costs and to replace aging equipment, including a fire engine, rescue vehicle, brush truck and firefighter bunker gear.
The additional 1.41 mill request would result in an increase on residential property of $10.15 per year for a $100,000 home.