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County tax request – no benefit to FFPD

Trent Harwig, fire chief of the Falcon Fire Protection District, said the proposed El Paso County sales tax increase will not fund the fire district. “The county is calling their tax request a public safety tax, but it has no effect on the finances of any fire department or special district,” Harwig said. “The Falcon Fire Protection District is funded solely by the property taxes of the people living in the district.”He said he hopes the county will not use fire protection to gain support for the tax increase because it will make it harder for him to make the case for a future mill levy increase.The FFPD faces unique challenges, Harwig said. The district protects more than $3 billion of the county’s properties – the second highest value in the county – and covers 133 square miles. The FFPD protects the area with one manned station and the third lowest mill levy in the county.The average fire protection mill levy in El Paso County is 7.286 mills, and the average volunteer/career district mill levy is 8.289. Although FFPD is a volunteer/career district, property owners currently pay 5.712 mills toward fire protection.The fire district budget, available as public record, shows that revenue through property taxes does not meet the fiscal needs of the district.FFPD collects $1,537,000 from the mill levy and an additional $201,000 from the county special ownership taxes, for total tax revenue of $1,738,000 (see Table 1). Employee costs alone total $1,026,000. FFPD fleet vehicles, maintenance, equipment and additional expenses total $1,908,000 (see Table 2).Because voters have rejected efforts in recent years to increase the mill levy, Harwig said he has employed other means to meet the $200,000 shortfall.”We respect the voters but have to provide a certain level of service,” Harwig said. Since 1998, when the district began hiring full-time employees, he said call volume has increased from 400 calls per year to more than 2,000 calls.”We wouldn’t be able to have half of what we do (have) without the IGA (intergovernmental agreement) grants and a contract with American Medical Response,” Harwig said.To improve response time to the Highway 24 corridor and Claremont Ranch, Harwig said FFPD entered into an IGA with Cimarron Hills. In exchange for administrative services Cimarron Hills reimburses FFPD $72,000 per year and allows Falcon to house firefighters and equipment at their station.”It’s a deal that really makes sense,” Harwig said. “They don’t have to pay a fire chief to run a 6-square-mile district and we can staff FFPD crewmen at their station and reduce response time.”Harwig said he is finding alternative ways to build more fire stations without having to ask taxpayers to pass a bond measure. If all goes according to plan, Harwig said home improvement mega-store Lowe’s will build a new fire station at Woodmen Road and Golden Sage Road in exchange for the property at Highway 24 and Meridian Road, which is currently owned by FFPD. Harwig also said the fire district is requiring developers to build fire stations in large planned communities, such as SantÈ Fe Springs.He said the district pays 18 full-time employees, which include Harwig and three five-man companies/crews, an operations’ chief and an administrative assistant. A contract with AMR supports the salaries of three firefighter/EMTs (emergency medical technicians) and Harwig said he hired six additional firefighters with funding from a five-year federal grant, Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER).FFPD firefighters work 56-hour weeks on an average salary of $35,000, Harwig said. “We can’t pay a starting salary of $50,000 like the city,” Harwig said. “Our district is a stepping stone for career guys.”He said he loses firefighters to the larger departments every year. “It’s good and bad. It keeps seniority low, but at the same time it keeps us young and energetic” he said. It’s good for the volunteer firefighters who want to become a career firefighter because Harwig said he always hires from within.The solutions to the revenue shortfall are temporary, he said. The SAFER grant expires in two years, and the department must continue to employ the firefighters or repay the grant. Long-standing territorial issues could threaten the security of the Cimarron Hills IGA, and economic forces drive development and the construction of new stations.Harwig said now is not the time to go to the voters for a mill levy increase, but he doesn’t rule out the possibility in the future. “We are working so the voters will not have to pay for capital costs, but we will still need revenue for staff and maintenance,” he said.What is a mill levy?A mill represents 0.1 percent of a dollar. Mill levies are collected on the assessed value of a home. The State of Colorado sets the assessed value at 7.96 percent of the actual market value of a home.To calculate the mill levy on a $200,000 home, multiply the actual value by 7.96 percent to obtain the assessed value. Multiply the assessed value by .005712 (the current mill rate for the FFPD).A property owner of a $200,000 home pays $90.93 annually for fire protection.$200,000 x .0796 = $15,920 (assessed value)$15,920 x 0.005712 = $90.94 (mill levy for fire protection)The above calculations were confirmed by Donna Dobson, El Paso County Assessor’s Office.FFPD expenditures and revenueAnnual Revenue (Table 1)

Mill Levy$1,537,000
Special Ownership Tax$201,000
AMR Reimbursements$52,000
Cimarron Hills IGA$72,000
Annual Expenditures (Table 2)
Employee Costs (salary, benefits, workers comp, etc.)$1,026,000
Administration (audit, bookkeeping, election$112,000
Operations (fuel, radio support, housekeeping)$164,000
Maintenance (equipment, building and grounds, vehicles)$62,000
Training (fire, medical, administrative)$46,000
Fire Prevention (community education, schools)$96,000
Lease Purchases on Trucks$305,000
Equipment Purchases (ladders, hoses, etc.)$97,000
Statutory Savings (3 percent of annual budget)$57,000
Savings for new station$147,000

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