By Mike McKibbin/NewsBreak Denver | June 14, 2022
[CASTLE ROCK, COLO.] Due to the town's growth, Castle Rock voters will likely face a tax hike in 2024 to help meet police and fire department needs.
Town officials held a live town hall via phone and Facebook Live Monday evening to discuss the town's financial needs over the next five years. They had 181 people online to hear details and ask questions.
Town manager Dave Corliss said the town may need to seek voter approval for an added revenue source in 2024. Those sources could include property, sales, new home construction taxes or increases.
Subdivisions need a fire station
Fire & Rescue Chief Norris Croom said the department will need a sixth fire station to mainly serve the Terrain and Cobblestone Ranch subdivisions by 2025. He added a new station requires at least 12 people and roughly $2 million annually for the department's funding needs.
Call volumes indicate the department will need to add an ambulance to an existing station in the same time frame, Croom noted. He said every ambulance and new shift requires another nine people and $1.7 million annually.
The department's master plan outlined other staffing needs for emergency management, fire prevention education, training and vehicle maintenance. Croom said the bottom line is a need for nearly $17 million additional annual funding.
"We understand the gravity of asking the community for additional resources, but we believe any investment in public safety would be money well spent in safety and security," said Croom.
Croom said nearby residents and businesses could not pay for the new station.
"When a station is added to the (fire) district, it services the entire district, it's not just dedicated to that subdivision," he stated. "By adding that station, it's actually relieving call volume from other stations so it's an addition to the entire town."
Police need an additional $15 million
Police Chief Jack Cauley said the national average of police officers per 1,000 people is 2.4, while Castle Rock is at 1.07 officers.
"As the town grows, we lose ground unless we can add more officers to help keep up," Cauley said. "With our anticipated growth, we need upwards of about 20 sworn positions over the next five years just to maintain where we are today."
Cauley said paying for the department's needs over the next five years would require another $15 million annually.
Assistant Finance Director Pete Mangers said a 26% growth in sales tax revenue from 2016-20 allowed the town to hire fire and police officers as needed.
"But additional staffing is needed to keep up with the pace of growth and revenues we're projecting for the next five years aren't robust enough to keep up," he added.
Alternative fund sources considered
The town is looking at possibly shifting a small portion of its sales tax revenue away from road maintenance toward public safety positions. Mangers said that would only allow a "modest gain" in personnel.
Growth-related fees cannot pay for additional firefighters or police officer salaries, Corliss said. And despite increasing assessed values, the town charter has a 5.5% limit on the annual growth of property tax revenue.
He added that when the assessed value of homes and businesses is over that limit, the town must reduce its mill levy to stay under that limit.
"And 5.5% has not been enough to keep up with salary increases and healthcare costs, let alone enough to be able to hire additional police officers," Corliss said.
Using property tax revenue to fund the fire and police department needs would require an increase from $1 million to $15 million.
"And that percentage increase is just not likely to be palatable to Castle Rock voters," Corliss said.
Last fall, town voters approved a 10-year "time out" from the spending limits of the Taxpayers Bill of Rights. But Corliss noted that money is considered a one-time allocation, and the ballot language requires the city to use it for police, fire and road capital needs.
"We would be very concerned about using that money to hire additional police and firefighters," whose positions could end if that funding source was lost, Mangers added.
Corliss said the exemption resulted in a $14.6 million surplus for police, fire and road needs this year. The town council will consider allocating $6 million for the new fire station, $2 million for an ongoing police department renovation project, $1 million for open space fire mitigation work and close to $6 million for roads.
Go to the town government's Facebook page to watch the town hall meeting.