The Summit Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday voted unanimously in favor of a resolution to refer a measure to the November ballot that would provide $3.73 million in temporary annual funding for water quality protection and emergency services, including ambulance services, wildfire response and 911 dispatch.
If approved by voters, the measure would enact a property tax levy of 2.417 mills for a period of eight years, resulting in an increase of $19.24 per year per $100,000 of residential property value during the first fiscal year of the new levy.
The measure would provide about $1.65 million per year in funding for Summit County Ambulance Service, which has experienced a substantial decline in revenues in recent years. Should the ballot measure pass, county residents and property owners who receive ambulance services would be eligible for a fee discount in order to recognize their contributions to the system via the mill levy.
“We’ve done a good job for a long time of operating the ambulance as a fee-for-service enterprise, but there isn’t an ambulance service in the mountains that can survive without a second source of revenue,” said Commissioner Thomas Davidson. “It’s important to note that we’ll still be providing the service at a better rate and that offering a discount is incredibly important for our local population.”
The proposed ballot measure would also provide about $1.45 million per year to enhance and upgrade emergency communications technology for the Summit County Communications Center, which provides 911 dispatch services.
The center does not currently have Next Generation 911 capabilities to accept text messages for help, nor can it receive photos and relay them to first responders so they can be best prepared for the incidents they encounter.
“There are a lot of areas of weak cell service, where you might get a text through, but not a voice call,” said Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier. “That is something we all experience in Summit County, and I think upgrading the system to add that capability is incredibly important to public safety.”
Last, the ballot measure would generate about $630,000 annually for water quality protection. Summit County’s history is rooted in the mining booms of the late 1800s, which caused environmental contamination that persists today. Acid drainage from abandoned mines and mine tailings continues to release heavy metals such as zinc and cadmium into local waterways.
Brian Lorch, director of the county’s Open Space and Trails Department, said the county has a long history of tackling mine cleanup and water quality projects, but the majority of those have been completely grant funded or taken on with significant state and federal assistance.
Among the projects that have benefited from those public and private partnerships include Peru Creek, Sts. John Creek, Ten Mile Creek, the Swan River and the Blue River south of Dillon Reservoir.
But Lorch said the time is quickly approaching when Summit County is going to need to pony up a greater share of future project costs if it continues to acquire land for open space purposes and wants to tackle larger projects that have gone unaddressed.
“The need is that we have to create some sort of seed money to get some of these projects moving,” Lorch said. “The county is going to be expected to at least be a player if we want to address some of these bigger projects.”
The water quality portion of the mill levy’s funding would also address modern-day threats to water quality, such as household hazardous waste, prescription medications and electronics waste, which pollute local water supplies when disposed of improperly.
Commissioner Dan Gibbs talked about his growing family in stressing the importance of supporting the mill levy, despite the tax increase. Gibbs and his wife live in affordable housing, are parents to a 3-month-old daughter and recently took in a 17-year-old exchange student from Norway.
“To make a long story short, we’re on a fixed income,” Gibbs said. “I looked seriously at the amount of money we’re asking for from the voters to address these critical topics, but I also thought about my daughter and I feel it’s important to support this to make sure we have a financially stable ambulance service, an updated 911 system and that we address water quality for future generations.”
“I looked seriously at the amount of money we’re asking for from the voters to address these critical topics, but I also thought about my daughter and I feel it’s important to support this to make sure we have a financially stable ambulance service, an updated 911 system and that we address water quality for future generations.”
County Commissioner Dan Gibbs