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Skyrocketing property values on Front Range harming rural fire departments

Tax revenue dropping due to Gallagher, Tabor
Posted at 12:21 AM, Dec 02, 2017
and last updated 2017-12-02 02:21:47-05

ELIZABETH, Colo – The impact of skyrocketing home prices is being felt far beyond the Front Range.

Rural fire districts are struggling with a decrease in tax revenue linked to escalating home values and a couple of tax amendments added to the state Constitution.

“We’ve got to fix this,” said T.J. Steck, chief of the Elizabeth Fire Protection District.

He said, because of growth, they’re seeing an increase in demand for service, but added that revenue isn’t keeping up.

Tax Amendments

Under the Gallagher Amendment, 45 percent of the total amount of state property tax collected must come from residential property, and 55 percent must come from commercial property, even though residential property accounts for 75 percent of the state’s total property value.

The Tabor Amendment prevents jurisdictions from raising the mill levy without a vote.

In 1982, the residential property assessment rate was 21 percent.  Now, it’s 7.96 percent.

Steck said Elizabeth Fire Rescue will lose $191,000 next year because of the ratcheting down mandated by Gallagher and Tabor.

He said that’s the equivalent of two fulltime firefighters.

“We rely on our volunteer firefighters to keep the costs down,” he said, “but volunteerism nationwide is down.”

Steck added that Elizabeth spends money to train new firefighters, only to see them leave for jobs with bigger departments along the Front Range.

He said taxpayers approved a mill levy increase in 2016, for capital improvements, but that’s money that can’t be spent on operations. 

“It’s for firetrucks and fire stations,” he said, “not for firefighters.”

Elizabeth growing

The chief said there are now 13,000 residents in the EFPD.

“We’ve seen a 20 percent jump in calls for service,” he said. “One of the things we’re worried about is where will we get the staffing to provide the response to those calls in the future.”

That’s a big concern for Denver7 photographer Eric Goody, whose family had to depend on the department twice recently.

“My mother got sick and my wife was in a major accident just up the road here,” he said, “and having them respond as efficiently and as professionally as they did, made the difference in possibly saving lives.”

Cheryl Morgan Dickens said the revenue issue is one that taxpayers may have to weigh in on.

She said she's mindful of the continued growth and the very dry vegetation, including pine trees, on the Palmer Divide.

“If something catches fire,” she said, “we’re going to be in a world of hurt, if we don’t have the fast response of firefighters.”

Steck said he hopes the state can come up with another solution.

“Going to voters might work once,” he said, “but it’s not something you can do every year.”

For more information on the Gallagher Amendment, click on this link: