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Bayfield fire, cemetery districts asking for property tax increases
10/29/2013 By: Carole McWilliams
Bayfield Wolverines volleyball takes the regional championship! The girls defeated Colorado Academy Saturday morning, followed by a 3-1 win over Frontier Academy of Greeley. The state tournament starts Friday in Denver!
Upper Pine supporters asking for mill levy increase
By Carole McWilliams
Times senior staff writer
Upper Pine Fire District will be unable to maintain current services without a property tax increase, district officials have been saying all year.
According to the County Assessor's annual abstract of valuations, Upper Pine valuation was $482.5 million in 2009 for taxes payable in 2010, generating $2.389 million for operations.
In 2012, valuation was down to $309.1 million, before new valuations in May 2013, with a further decrease. The 2012 valuation generated 2013 operating revenue of $1.53 million.
Accountant Mickey Ramsey told the district board in August that the district needs around $2.7 million to maintain current levels of service. The 2013 lower assessed valuation might only bring in $1.2 million next year at the current tax rate, he said.
Other funding comes from medical billing, grants, and payments for people and equipment deployed to non-local wildland fires.
Ramsey said the $2.7 million is "just to keep what we are doing in 2014. No raises, no increases of reserves or (vehicle) replacement. "It's just breaking even."
The district cut sharply into fund balance this year, reduced staff, and sold equipment. Chief Bruce Evans told the Times this week that the ladder truck has finally been sold. It has high maintenance costs, cannot be used in most of the district outside of town, and has only been used a few times since it was purchased in the mid 2000s.
In August the district board decided to ask voters to raise the tax rate to 10.9 mills, up from the current 4.95 mills. The ballot question has a 10-year sunset, meaning the tax rate would revert to 4.95 without another voter approval.
Evans said the district board could reduce the tax rate sooner than 10 years if assessed valuations recover. He speculated that could happen as the U.S. becomes a net exporter of natural gas, which could raise the price of gas and in turn, local assessed valuations.
The district provides "all hazard response," meaning fire and rescue services as well as emergency medical response and ambulance transport.
One of Evans's priorities is to improve emergency medical response to paramedic level. Around 80 percent of district calls are medical, he said, but Upper Pine is the only one among surrounding districts that doesn't have paramedic level responders.
He and other district representatives held community meetings earlier this year on the district's finances. Most people are supportive of the need for more revenue, he said. He lamented that some people are against the tax increase because of issues they had with previous chiefs or board members.
That has nothing to do with the current situation, the big decrease in assessed valuation, he said.
One thing that upset people at the community presentations was learning how little the district's on-duty responders are paid, Evans said.
At the Aug. 15 Upper Pine Board meeting, Evans reported that one of the district's recently trained paramedics had resigned and was going to the Pagosa district for $9,000 more pay and better job certainty.
Another was at risk of leaving and was struggling to pay student loans for paramedic training, Evans said.
"We will have to decide if we want to continue to be a mill, training people who leave, or do we want to retain people" with better pay and benefits, he said.
Cemetery district board members hope voters approve property tax increase
By Carole McWilliams
Times senior staff writer
Pine River Cemetery District supporters are seeking voter approval for a property tax increase that they say will equal the cost of a cup of coffee for the entire year.
The district has the same boundaries as the Bayfield school and library districts, but does not extend into Archuleta County.
Falling assessed valuations for residential properties as well as natural gas production have cut cemetery district revenue from just over $35,000 in 2010 to $17,308 for 2014 if the tax increase is not approved.
The increase would get the revenue back to $35,000. This is ballot question 5D, the last thing on the Bayfield area ballot.
The district's current mill levy is 0.075 mills. Supporters want to raise that to 0.15 mill. They say the cost of the increase would be around $1.50 per year on a residential property assessed at $250,000.
Because of the ratchet-down effect of the state TABOR amendment, once cemetery district revenue falls because of lower assessed valuation, it cannot increase if valuations go back up unless voters approve the increase.
The mill levy increase is necessary, supporters say, to continue proper maintenance to have a nice-looking cemetery. The cemetery needs a new lawnmower, new irrigation pump, and repairs to the irrigation system. There are tree limbs that need to be removed and blacktop that needs repair.
The district has two part-time employees who do the mowing, watering, grave marking, and gopher control. Supporters say almost all of the tax money goes for cemetery maintenance.
Current cemetery board members are president Beth Sower, Larry Phelps, and Sharon Hickman.
The cemetery land was donated by valley pioneer Walter Dunham in 1883. His wife, who died the year before, was the first person buried there.