Montrose’s head firefighter lit up with joy the night of Tuesday, Nov. 6. It was election night, and the fire district’s voters had just approved a critically important ballot issue, 55.65% For, 44.35% Against. Ballot issue 7A effectively negates the financial effect of the Colorado Constitution’s Gallagher Amendment on the Montrose Fire Protection District.
The MFPD was facing a serious problem: how to handle increasing calls for service in the face of a property tax assessment rate that was being driven down by provisions of the Gallagher Amendment.
7A was the answer created by Fire Chief Tad Rowan, John Nelson, Jim Haugsness, and a number of others.
If you’re asking yourself why the districts are asking for a mill levy increase that won’t increase revenues, it’s because of a decrease in residential assessment rates triggered by the Gallagher Amendment. The amendment, passed in 1982, requires a 55-45 ratio for commercial and residential property tax collections, respectively. That means whenever residential property values increase more quickly than commercial property values, the assessment rate has to be lowered to keep the proper ratio.
The Colorado State Fire Chiefs association is pushing for change at the legislative level so this doesn’t continue to happen.
Until then, the various fire districts are asking voters to allow them to continue receiving that same revenue, regardless of assessment rate dips, indefinitely without having to continue to go back to vote.
This means the the fire district will not have to shut down its relatively new Station 3 due to the $170, 000 budget shortfall that would have been created by the Gallagher Amendment in 2019. In fact, it effectively “de-Gallagherizes” the district from now on.
We asked Chief Rowan what went through his mind at the moment he realized that the ballot issue had passed. “Oh, absolute excitement!” he said, grinning. “We were just very thrilled to find out that our community supported us.”
Now that the political battle has been won, Rowan is feeling good about his department’s future. “The purpose of this election wasn’t to get more; it was to regenerate the revenue we had lost, from the first reduction of the residential assessment rate.
And then, to allow the district to fluctuate its mill levy specifically for future changes of the residential assessment rate. We can breathe a sigh of relief that we’re not going to lose $275,000 in revenue in 2020. And, we can sustain our current operations.”
Rowan also said that 7A’s success will enable the MFPD to keep up with growth in the district. “We can then meet the increasing call volume we will have.” The number of medical and fire calls handled by the department has increased annually for a long time, and is expected to continue to grow.
Tad Rowan is a 47-year-old Montrose native who has been with the Montrose Fire Department since 1990, starting as a volunteer firefighter and emergency medical technician. He also worked for what he calls “A Mom and Pop ambulance company” which was literally true in his case, since his father was the owner. “Then he sold it to a private industry, and they sold it to the Fire Protection District,” the Chief explained.
Rowan also learned to be a paramedic at the Delta-Montrose Technical College. He continued his training and became a full-time firefighter and paramedic with the MFPD in 1999.
Tad Rowan has been married to his wife Amy for 25 years. They have a son in the Navy and a daughter at the University of Portland.
When Chief Rowan has time off from putting out fires that can be literal or political, he relaxes in a rather unusual way; he umpires local baseball and softball games. Umpiring may not strike you as a relaxing activity, but when you compare it to the stress of saving lives or saving fire stations, it does seem kind of cool.