The Los Pinos Fire Protection District board of directors unanimously voted Thursday to postpone the district’s tax increase effort because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
The fire district board decided earlier this month to put the property tax increase question on the ballot, as the 325-square-mile district faces the risk of running out of savings in two to four years. The next opportunity to ask voters to approve the mill levy increase is the November election.
“Yes, this will be difficult financially for the district, but we are all in difficult times,” said a district news release. “We can stretch our savings out a little longer, just like everybody is currently having to do.”
Based on community input, the board approved a ballot measure asking voters to increase the mill levy from 3.52 mills, the lowest fire district levy in the county, to 9.5 mills during the May 5 election.
However, the response to the COVID-19 epidemic requires all the district’s resources and would create an unnecessary risk for district personnel, election judges and voters, the news release said.
The district already runs on minimum staffing and is dipping into savings to make sure it can try to meet public safety needs during the pandemic.
Board members considered the deepening economic challenges residents face, which could make a tax increase difficult to pass, said board member Chelsea Hamilton.
“We need to postpone the election. People are struggling, a lot of people don’t know where their next paycheck is going to come from,” Hamilton said. “Sending out a ballot ... asking them to increase their taxes is just going to look very bad on our part.”
The district also questioned whether November would be a better time for a ballot measure.
“This thing is so fluid or changing ... we don’t know where we’re going to be in September,” said Fire Chief Tony Harwig.
If the board does not put the tax increase on the ballot this year, its next chance would be November 2021, said Floyd Smith, the district’s attorney.
“Together, as an entire community with each of our sacrifices, we will get through this, and then we will look to build the future,” Harwig said.
With no ballot measure or competing board candidates, the district could cancel the election according to state statute, Smith said.
For example, Kirk Becker, Hamilton and Preston Rea were elected uncontested for three-year terms, and the election was canceled.