By Shaun Boyd

LARKSPUR, Colo. (CBS4)– Colorado fire districts are sounding an alarm as many of them face massive budget cuts, even as emergency calls have increased 30 to 50 percent. The head of the Colorado Fire Chiefs Association, Gary Briese, and lawmakers are set to meet next week to come up with an emergency fix.

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Briese says one of the ideas is to ask voters for a state sales tax for emergency services, “The fire service is dialing 911 and we’re asking for the legislature to answer the call.”

“I don’t want to be having this conversation after we’ve had a major catastrophic wildland interface fire like Paradise, California.”

MAGALIA, CA – NOVEMBER 09: A Cal Fire firefighter sprays water on a home next to a burning home as the Camp Fire moves through the area on November 9, 2018 in Magalia, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The Larkspur Fire Department and 60 other departments went to voters in November for stopgap funding. Like most rural fire districts, Larkspur is a bare bones operation that relies almost entirely on residential property taxes.

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“We don’t make widgets. We can’t increase production or raise the price of services,” says Chief Stuart Mills.

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The only way to get additional funding is to ask voters for more taxes and Mills says they have again and again as property taxes have dropped every two years due to the intersection of two constitutional measures passed decades ago. Gallagher and Tabor have resulted in massive cuts to fire district budgets.

Copter4 flew over the state Capitol (credit: CBS)

“It’s really difficult going back to voters every couple years.”

Briese says it’s time the state stepped up. It relies on locally funded districts for every fire, every natural disaster, in Colorado.

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“It’s just not conceivable that we would put the public safety future, the fire service future of the state on the roll of a dice.”

Larkspur’s chief is worried help will come too little, too late, “I personally don’t see anything being done at the state level until emergency services reaches a crisis funding level.”

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For some fire districts, it’s getting close. While 60 districts got help from voters in November, most rural districts couldn’t afford an election, at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars.

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Wildfire Resources

– Visit CBSDenver.com’s Colorado Wildfire section.

Wildfire Photo Galleries

– See images from the most destructive wildfires (Black Forest, Waldo Canyon, High Park and Fourmile), the deadliest (Storm King) and largest wildfire (Hayman) in Colorado history.

Shaun Boyd is CBS4’s political specialist. She’s a veteran reporter with more than 25 years of experience. Follow her on Twitter @cbs4shaun.

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