Opinion | Linda Harmon: Not all tax increases are bad
Positive Progressive Thinking
I was pleased to hear that the Summit Fire & EMS will ask Summit County voters within the fire protection district to approve an increase in the district’s property tax mill levy by 4 mills on the November ballot. I’m glad they are pursuing this tax increase for two reasons: they need the financial resources, and I’m overjoyed they can take this approach, marking the beginning of the post-Gallagher tax phase in Colorado.
The Gallagher Amendment was put into the Colorado state constitution in 1982 and since its inception, has been a huge burden for Colorado schools, libraries, firefighters, police officers and special districts. In 2018, Colorado voters overwhelmingly voted to approve Amendment B, repealing the Gallagher Amendment.
“I’ve worked on this issue for long enough to know first-hand how the Gallagher Amendment hampered our local governments,” said Representative Daneya Esgar, Legislative sponsor of Amendment B.
The Gallagher Amendment required residential property taxes to be capped at 45% of the statewide property tax base. This meant organizations like Summit Fire & EMS could not go to voters to ask for a reasonable increase in property taxes.
“This is a good example of why fiscal policy should not be enacted by constitutional amendment. It leaves very little flexibility other than yet another constitutional amendment, for our state legislators to address and fix obvious problems that usually don’t appear for several years,” said Gary Martinez, former Breckenridge Town Manager and Summit County Manager.
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While my conservative counterparts will likely continue their mantra that any tax is a bad tax, I hope the intelligent voters of Summit County will understand why it’s important to approve this property tax increase. If this tax does not pass and the district is forced to reduce its services, it could adversely affect the district’s ratings with the insurance services office. This could cause property insurance rates to increase for businesses and homeowners.
The need for more financial resources is not due to mismanagement. It’s simply a result of organizational changes that have greatly improved the district’s fiscal responsibility to taxpayers. Additionally, Summit Fire Chief Travis Davis said, “the district has not asked for a property tax increase for almost 10 years.”
One of the biggest changes for the fire district came when they merged with the Summit County Ambulance Service following voters approving the Safety First Tax in 2014 which is due to expire in 2023. This meant the fire district took control of Summit County Ambulance Service, a private contract organization.
“At their peak, (Summit County Ambulance Service) billed roughly $7 million in charges and collected nearly $4 million after write offs. This was accomplished through working with Saint Anthony’s Summit Medical Center in transporting stabilized patients to other hospitals around the state, taking them out of the county for hours at a time,” Davis said. “Their absence left the county without adequate 911 ambulance coverage. We decided to stop out of county transports to stay focused on our existence as an all hazard emergency response agency serving the citizens and guests of Summit County.”
This meant the district lost $2.5 million in revenue by reducing the number of out-of-county ambulance transports.
In addition to the EMS service, they merged with the Copper Mountain Fire Department, increasing the staff by 60 employees and adding more than 2,500 emergency medical responses in 2020.
Adding even more strain is the population growth of Colorado’s Front Range, contributing many more visitors to our county and bringing high paid millennials who are buying second homes in mountain communities like Summit County.
Colorado ranks 30 out of 50 states in order of the average property taxes collected and ranks 36 out of 50 states for property taxes as a percentage of median income, according to Tax-Rate.org. This leaves plenty of room to handle a mill levy increase to adequately fund one of most important agencies in our county and allow them to build for the future.
Even if you are a conservative who does not normally support tax increases, please go to the Summit Fire & EMS website, SummitFire.org, to learn more. Let’s support this amazing community service that contributes so much to our safety.
Linda Harmon’s column “Positive Progressive Thinking” publishes biweekly on Fridays in the Summit Daily News. Harmon is a former broadcast and print journalist who has been involved in Democratic Party politics since she was 18. She lives in Silverthorne. Contact her at email@example.com.
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