Colorado State Fire Chiefs Support Amendment B to Remove the Gallagher Amendment
“Amendment B is about maintaining critical fire and emergency services to our communities”
If Amendment B does not pass, there will be a dramatic and negative impact your local fire department, emergency medical services, governments, and businesses.
Recent published opinions regarding this November's Amendment B vote fall far short of giving all the context and implications of the measure not passing.
Most certainly, a big challenge of the Gallagher amendment is the impact on the local business community. In 1982, when the Gallagher Amendment was passed, the goal was to balance the property tax burden between business and residential.
However, the proponents of Gallagher could not foresee the future’s significant geographical and demographic property valuation imbalance across the state, or the passage of the TABOR amendment ten years later which turned a balanced tax plan into a one-direction downward spiraling plan.
The negative synergy between Gallagher and TABOR results in a perpetually decreasing tax rate (from 22% in 1982 to a 2020 rate of 7.15% and possibly 5.8% in 2022) for residences and launched an ever increasing tax burden on businesses.
What is significantly missing from recent published comments is the bi-partisan reasoning behind putting the question on the ballot-- the rapidly deteriorating ability of local governments to continue providing critical services with rapidly and continually diminishing property tax revenue. This is not an issue of growing government but how we maintain critical services with continually diminishing revenues.
Fire chiefs across the state, struggle with how to balance their fire department’s budget when the property tax available to the fire districts (especially those with limited commercial property within their service area) continues to decline as a result of the negative effects of Gallagher and TABOR combined.
Many people think that government should grow proportionately to the community's growth. Simply, it just does not work that way. The effects of inflation alone require government to increase revenues even if no community growth occurs.
It is a false comparison to root government expenditures in community growth since volatile home prices, which dictate property tax revenues, provide an uncertain, unpredictable, and unsafe resource for government to solely fund essential fire and emergency medical services.
Like any other citizen, Fire Chiefs do not want to pay more taxes and neither do Fire Chiefs want a fire service that shrinks to the point where its ability to perform its life-saving functions are in jeopardy. But, this is the direction we’re heading with the current Gallagher/TABOR tax system.
If your local fire protection district continued under the tax system required by Gallagher without raising its mill levy and dependent on growth, it is estimated most fire protection districts outside major metro areas will see an 18-24% reduction in property tax revenue in 2022 unless the voters approve a change.
With those kinds of mandated tax reductions, especially outside the Front Range, emergency services will be significantly cut if not completely jeopardized. Most fire protection districts across Colorado have had negligible growth over the past decade will suffer huge losses in their ability to maintain service levels to their community not to mention the profound impact on already underfunded fire districts’ abilities to support each other during critical incidents such as massive wildfires and floods.
Colorado’s residential property tax burden is fourth lowest in the country. If Amendment B fails, Colorado could drop to third lowest and possibly second lowest, a note-worthy achievement that invites a great deal of out-of-state transplants but also puts all levels of government in the state in a position to have to regularly reprioritize a reduced level of emergency and critical services
This greatly reduces available time which could be devoted to increasing service efficiency and quality but the revenue reductions will undeniably limit the ability of fire departments and government to provide necessary public safety services and other important infrastructure activities.
Some would have you believe that giving governments the ability to improve the services they perceive the community wants is a blank check for recklessness, waste, or unlimited social services.
While there will always be examples of this at all levels of government, they are far from how Colorado’s local governments operate. Colorado is far from becoming a California or New York.
Amendment B is about maintaining critical emergency services to the community, nothing more, nothing less.
Garry Briese, Executive Director
Colorado State Fire Chiefs