GYPSUM, Colo. (CBS4) – The idea of your house on fire and no one to come fight the flames is a scary one, but some worry that could be a reality in one pocket of rural Colorado.
On May 3 voters will be asked for a third time to approve a proposed property tax increase to help fund the Gypsum Fire Protection District.
Officials are hoping the third time is the charm — the last two times this went to voters, it was shot down.
District chief Justin Kirkland tells CBS4 the district, which covers a large area of the Vail Valley including part of the Eagle County Regional Airport, depends almost entirely on property tax for its revenue.
The proposed tax increase that would add up to roughly $84 per year on $300,000 worth of residential value would be permanent.
Kirkland said as the county’s assessed value dropped starting in 2008, and it hit his agency very hard. Since then the district has been cash strapped; the district’s newest fire truck is now 10 years old and other trucks are now more than 25 years old.
And it’s not just aging equipment problems, fire officials are also worried about staffing levels and training.
Last year, the Gypsum Fire Protection District ran 579 calls, the majority during business hours, when there are the fewest volunteers available. Of those, 351 were EMS calls, including motor vehicle accidents, 228 were fire calls including fire alarms and hazardous materials calls. The busiest days for the district are Thursdays followed by Mondays.
Since the state constitution caps the rate of increase for property taxes, only a fraction of that lost revenue has been recovered as property taxes have since come back, Kirkland said.
“It’s extremely difficult. We have an expectation to provide service to our citizens and to the guests of our community and not having the resources to meet it is very difficult… plus it’s a safety issue,” said Kirkland.
“We’re jeopardizing or risking all of our homes, our improvements here and we have to do something to protect that,” said Gypsum resident Ken Marchetti. “How are we then going to protect our community, our neighborhood.”
CBS4 could not find any public campaign against the tax increase, but with it failing twice before, opponents of the measure are out there.