Summit County voters support $30 million in public safety funding
Summit County voters on Tuesday, Nov. 4, overwhelmingly supported a ballot initiative that will infuse a cash-strapped ambulance service with $1.65 million annually over eight years.
The initiative also will secure $1.4 million annually for 911 system upgrades and $600,000 each year for water quality improvements such as toxic mine reclamation and hazardous household waste disposal.
More than 60 percent of voters got behind the tax proposal, which will result in an annual increase of $19.25 per $100,000 of residential property value. The tax hike sunsets in 2022.
In total, 1A will give the county a nearly $30 million shot in the arm, bringing property tax revenue a bit closer to pre-recession levels.
“We’re extremely grateful to the people of Summit County for recognizing how important this public safety issue is for all of us,” said Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier.
James Woodworth, director of Summit County Ambulance Service, said voters sent a clear message that they want to support a top-shelf emergency response service.
“The public has spoken — they want a premier ambulance service — and we’re going to give it to them,” he said.
Woodworth’s department has seen a 10 percent increase in calls for service over the last three years, but not an increase in funding. The current funding deficit is $600,000. County officials say that is likely to grow to $2 million in eight years as collection rates decrease and expenses like fuel, vehicle replacements and employee costs increase.
Summit County’s is one of the last remaining ambulance services on the Western Slope that operates as an enterprise fund. That means it’s part of the county government, but financed like a business.
For a long time, the model worked. Then, in 2007, the Great Recession hit. Fewer people came to vacation in Summit County and call volumes dropped in the High Country. A rise in unemployment meant that even when calls did come in, more patients were uninsured or underinsured. Additionally, lucrative long-distance transports began to evaporate after St. Anthony Summit Medical Center opened its doors, eliminating the need to take many patients to hospitals on the Front Range.
Summit’s 1A initiative brings stability to the service as officials continue to look for cost-saving partnerships with area fire departments.
1A will also generate $11.6 million over eight years to make several changes to the county’s 911 dispatch system, including a new 911 system enabling texting and photo sharing, two new staff positions and an expansion of the county’s communication tower network.
Summit County officials say that the current 911 system is stymied by aging technology and increasingly unreliable funding.
About $630,000 a year would go toward environmental protection efforts, including cleaning up the toxic impacts of old mines and enabling residents to properly discard household hazardous waste.
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