QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

FALCON FIRE PROTECTION DISTRICT

and the mill levy increase

 

On November 6, 2018, voters approved a mill levy increase for the Falcon Fire Protection District. Revenue from this increase will be used to implement a District-run Advanced Life Support ambulance service to ensure that Falcon-area residents have access to ambulance transport services and ALS emergency care regardless of the status of the county's contract with private ambulance providers. It will also be used to hire additional frontline firefighter/EMTs, which will provide a more effective and efficient workforce, maintain emergency services, and protect the District's Insurance Services Office rating.

The Falcon Fire Protection District wishes to thank its residents for approving this important funding, and for their continued support of local emergency services.

During the election process, misinformation about the mill levy and its purpose was widely spread across social media. We want to be sure our residents understand why the mill levy increase was requested and how it will affect them. Here are some common questions and concerns. 

Why can’t the fire district ask for more money from the county or state?

The Falcon Fire Protection District is funded primarily through property taxes. It does not receive funding from either El Paso County or the State of Colorado. It also does not receive any funds from sales tax.

Why does a small fire department need to increase revenue?  

At 113 square miles, the Falcon Fire Protection District is not "small."

According to statistics published by the El Paso County Assessor in October 2018, the fire district now protects more than 66,300 people and more than 16,100 structures with an estimated 2018 market value of $4.2 billion. Falcon firefighters responded to 2,502 calls for service in 2017. That represents an increase of 20% from 2016, and a more than 26% increase since 2013.

Like everyone else, the fire district is paying more for utilities, fuel, insurance, and other necessities. Its largest and most expensive apparatus are aging and due for replacement, and the cost of those apparatus increases every year. Employee costs are also going up, just like they are for any other business.

At the same time, the amount of revenue generated by property taxes is being negatively affected by the Gallagher Amendment (scroll down for more information on the Gallagher Amendment).

comparisons of tax amounts paid to Falcon FPD under previous and new mill levies

NOTE: These are general estimated figures. Factors that affect the actual amount of property tax you pay to Falcon FPD include:

  • Any increase in property values will equate to a higher amount of taxable value.
  • The Residential Assessment Rate is projected to decrease from 7.2% in 2018 to 6.11% in 2019. That translates to a lower percentage of your home's market (actual) value that is considered taxable.
  • Under Colorado's Senior Homestead Exemption Act, property taxes for qualified seniors may be reduced by one-half of the first $200,000 of their home's market (actual) value. Seniors must apply to receive this exemption, which relies on state funding and may not be available in every tax year. For more information: https://assessor.elpasoco.com/senior-property-tax-exemption/ 

How are property taxes calculated?

The property tax statement you receive from the El Paso County Assessor’s Office shows your home’s Actual Value as determined by the EPC Assessor's Office. You will also see the Assessed Value (the amount on which you pay taxes), and the different taxes you pay to schools, fire district, water district, etc. This information is also online (http://land.elpasoco.com/). 

Please note: The Actual Value and/or Market Value shown by the EPC Assessor's Office may not  reflect the amount you can sell your home for, nor the property values listed on real estate websites such as Zillow.com.

Here’s how the tax assessment process works:

1. The El Paso County Assessor’s Office first establishes a property’s "actual value." We’ll use an example of $250,000.

2. The Assessor then multiplies the Actual Value by the Residential Assessment Rate (RAR) to determine the Assessed Value. The RAR is established by the state and is affected by provisions of the Gallagher Amendment (scroll down for more info on Gallagher). The RAR for the 2017-2018 tax years was 7.2%.

$250,000 (actual value) X 0.072 (2018 RAR) = $18,000 (assessed value)

3. Mill levies are applied to the Assessed Value to determine what a special district or other taxing authority receives from the taxpayer.

$18,000 (assessed value) X 0.008612 (Falcon FPD mill levy in 2018) = $155.02 (annual taxes paid to the Falcon FPD for 2018)  

How do we know that the fire district won’t be back in a few years asking for more money? 

The Falcon Fire Protection District prides itself on being fiscally responsible. Since the fire district's inception in 1981, it has received only three mill levy increases in 37 years (including the one approved on Nov. 6, 2018). The last mill levy increase, from 5.7 mills to 8.612 mills, was approved by voters in 2010 to retain firefighters hired under a federal grant that was expiring.    

How much will businesses pay in property taxes? 

Businesses/commercial properties fall under the category of Non-Residential Properties and are assessed at a fixed rate of 29% of their Actual/Market values.

What is the Gallagher Amendment and how does it affect the fire department? 

In the State of Colorado, the assessment rate for commercial and residential property is determined by the Gallagher Amendment, which became law in 1982. This amendment requires that no more than 45% of all property tax collected in the state can come from Residential Property. The remaining 55% comes from Non-Residential Property. The Gallagher Amendment requires assessment rates to adjust to maintain this 45% / 55% ratio.

Since Gallagher took effect, the Residential Assessment Rate (RAR) has either stayed steady or repeatedly adjusted downward because the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) prevents any tax increase without voter approval. In 1982, the RAR was 21%. Today it is 7.2%, and it is projected to drop again in 2019 to 6.11%. Meanwhile, the Non-Residential Rate has held at 29%.

Even though property values have been rising, those increases do not always offset revenue lost due to the RAR downward adjustments mandated by the Gallagher Amendment. Here is a link to a short video that explains how the Gallagher Amendment affects fire protection districts:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BXbrsdQQrZ8

Why can't the fire department go back to being an all-volunteer organization to save money? 

In short, returning to an all-volunteer model would significantly increase response times and affect the ability of the department to have sufficient personnel to respond 24/7. It would also negatively affect the district's Insurance Services Office rating, resulting in higher insurance premiums for homeowners and businesses.

The Falcon Fire Protection District covers one of the fastest growing areas of El Paso County. More people means more people needing emergency assistance. FFPD's call volume increased more than 20% between 2016 and 2017, and that growth is expected to continue throughout 2018. The district began to employ paid staff in 2000 when there were not enough volunteers available to respond to emergency calls.

FFPD still relies on volunteers (now called "reservists") to augment full-time and part-time staffing. However, volunteerism across the country is in decline. Fewer and fewer people have the time and/or the desire to commit to being a volunteer firefighter. Locally, many volunteers/reservists move on to paid firefighting jobs which results in a continuous cycle of recruit, train, and replace. The all-volunteer model is no longer effective for ensuring that emergency personnel are available to respond quickly to the growing needs of our residents.

HOW CAN I FOLLOW THE DISTRICT'S PROGRESS AS IT IMPLEMENTS THE NEW AMBULANCE SERVICE?

The Falcon Fire Protection District is a strong proponent of transparency. District residents and the general public can follow all of the happenings at the fire district in a variety of ways.

  • The District website (www.falconfirepd.org) will have updates on the new programs being implemented. Financial and budget information, board meeting minutes, and other useful information also can be found here.
  • Attend the monthly Board of Directors meetings, which are open to the public. The Falcon FPD board usually meets at 4:00 p.m. on the third Wednesday of the month. In December, the meeting takes place a week earlier to meet statutory deadlines for the annual budget. Any other changes in meeting schedules will be posted on the District website; on social media; and at Station 1, Station 3, and Station 4.
  • Follow Falcon FPD on social media:
    • Facebook: @FalconFireDepartment
    • Twitter: @FalconFireDept
    • NextDoor
  • Call us at 719-495-4050 during normal business hours. (Please do NOT use this number to report emergencies - call 911.)

 

2018 Community Information Meetings 

As part of the process to gather input for the proposed mill levy increase, the Falcon Fire Protection District held a series of "town hall" style meetings. Click the image below to see the information that was presented at these meetings.