Facing an expanding coverage area and aging equipment, the Security Fire Protection District is asking for a new tax increase in the Nov. 2 coordinated election to pay for "proper" fire protection.
The tax hike, if passed, would raise more than $2.4 million this year at a tax rate of 6.4 mills, or $45.76 annually per $100,000 of a resident's property's value, in order for the district to hire new personnel, replace aging equipment and fund new stations that would help bolster its coverage area. A mill levy is a tax rate applied to a property's assessed value.
That coverage area, which Security Fire Department Chief Dave Girardin said was recently expanded to include Lorson Ranch, included roughly 16,000 homes, putting the department on track to reach 6,600 calls in 2021.
To handle the call volume — which Girardin said was second in the county, behind the Colorado Springs Fire Department — the department plans to hire roughly a dozen new personnel: six firefighters and six emergency medical responders.
Tax revenue from the measure is also slated to help address the department's upcoming and future facility needs, including a fourth fire station, which is in the works, as well as a future fifth station to help with coverage.
Those stations are needed, Girardin said, to help redistribute resources throughout the department's 55 square-mile coverage area.
“The ideal goal is to reduce response times. Get to your house quicker, safer, and be able to help faster,” Girardin said.
Security firefighters and emergency medical responders, Girardin said, average response times of a little over seven minutes. For Lorson Ranch, their newest coverage area, and the one furthest from any of the department’s stations, that response time is closer to nine minutes.
Part of the reason the department needs to replace equipment, including at least two fire engines, is because much of the equipment was purchased in the early and late 1990s and is now approaching the 20-year equipment retirement age the department uses to keep their gear in good condition.
But for personnel, who Girardin said often treat positions at the department as stepping stones to higher-paying jobs in Colorado Springs, the problem isn’t just about replacing staff who leave.
“We're losing probably nine EMTs and firefighters and paramedics mixed, not one more than other,” Girardin said. “So we're trying to get the guys and gals raises as well with this measure to keep and retain our qualified, skilled firefighters.
“We're one of the lowest paid fire departments in El Paso County right now.”
In 2020, the department’s budget clocked in at $4,955,965. Over 55% of that went to paying staff, which according to 2021 proposed budget figures filed in late 2020 amounted to the department’s largest expense.
Many of the people surveyed by the district shared the department’s concerns about their ability to respond to people and emergencies within their coverage area, and spoke in favor of the measure.
“Many of us truly appreciate what you do — and know you do it with a minimum,” one supporter surveyed by the district said.
“I think with growth we see, we should all be proactive to increase the protection Security Fire Department affords us,” wrote another.
Others, however, were concerned about the proposed property tax hike, with the measure coming in on the heels of another one-cent per dollar tax increase for property in the area for 2021.
The new tax, the measure says, wouldn't be subject to a state-imposed 5.5% limitation, according to Division of Local Government correspondence with the district, that normally restricts how much properties can be taxed.
Some people surveyed questioned the transparency of the district’s spending.
“I believe the cost and monthly electric bill (plus) future maintenance of the new marquees posted at the current (Security Fire Department) stations ... is a waste of funds. Monies should have been allocated toward equipment (and) personnel,” wrote one respondent.
Also on some Security-Widefield residents’ minds was the fact that their incomes haven’t adjusted with recent tax increases.
“Fixed income, live only off social security. Every dollar is needed. Though we need the extra service, (we) can't afford to pay more taxes to pay for it,” one person surveyed said.