La Plata County residents approved a property tax increase for the Los Pinos Fire Protection District, injecting much-needed funding into the district’s struggling budget.
Sixty-five percent of voters supported the tax increase called Ballot Issue 7A, according to unofficial results Tuesday. About 35% of voters opposed the measure. The La Plata County Clerk and Recorder’s Office said it was safe to call the election at 8 p.m. Tuesday.
The fire district’s revenue has been declining over the past decade, from $4.9 million to $1.8 million annually. Los Pinos officials warned the district would run out of savings in two to four years if something didn’t change. Voters showed they were ready to make that change Tuesday.
“We’re just excited for the community because I know that we’re going to put together a great (emergency) response for them that they deserve,” said Tony Harwig, Los Pinos fire chief.
Los Pinos Fire - Ballot Issue 7A
Ballot Issue 7A increased the district’s property tax rate from 3.52 mills to 9.5 mills, or about $45 more per year for every $100,000 in assessed home value. Previously, property owners were paying about $25 per year for every $100,000 in assessed value, which will increase to about $70 per year for every $100,000 in assessed value.
The money will support ambulance and paramedic coverage, a volunteer emergency responder program, career staffing, equipment purchases and contingency reserves.
The district covers southeast La Plata County, parts of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe reservation, parts of Archuleta County and a small part of northwest New Mexico.
Its funding comes primarily from property tax revenue – which has steadily decreased largely because of a decline in gas and oil property taxes.
The newest fire engine is 18 years old. Of five stations, only one is staffed. With minimal staffing, it has been difficult to address more than one emergency call at a time without assistance from other regional emergency departments.
“We just have to start making our plans to add personnel and start implementing our volunteer program that we’ve been putting together,” Harwig said.