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Summit BOCC Refers Funding Measure to November Ballot
[August 20, 2014]

Summit BOCC Refers Funding Measure to November Ballot

(Targeted News Service Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) SUMMIT COUNTY, Colo., Aug. 19 -- Summit County issued the following news release: The Summit Board of County Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday in favor of a resolution to refer a measure to the November ballot that would provide $3.73 million per year in temporary funding for water quality protection and emergency services, including ambulance services, wildfire response and 911 dispatch.

If approved by Summit County voters, the measure would enact a property tax mill levy of 2.417 mills for a period of eight years, resulting in an increase of $19.24 per year per $100,000 of residential property value during the first fiscal year of the new levy.

The measure would provide about $1.65 million per year in funding for Summit County Ambulance Service (SCAS), which has experienced a substantial decline in revenues in recent years. SCAS provides countywide ambulance service, offering transport to medical facilities, critical care, first responder services, search-and-rescue and paramedic response. Should the ballot measure pass, Summit County residents and property owners who receive ambulance services would be eligible for a fee discount, in order to recognize their contributions to the system via the mill levy.

Prior to 2005, SCAS fee-based revenues reliably covered the service's expenses. But with the 2005 opening of St. Anthony's Summit Medical Center, a significantly greater depth and breadth of medical services became available locally, and out-of-county transports dropped off, thereby reducing revenue to the ambulance system.

The economic recession, increases in operating costs, limited federal reimbursement rates and declining collection rates from insurers and patients have exacerbated the service's financial challenges, even as 911 call volumes have increased. Since 2012, SCAS deficits have necessitated subsidies from the Summit County General Fund. In 2014, the General Fund contribution is projected to total $600,000, and the SCAS deficit is projected to more than double within the next few years.

During the past two years, Summit County has been working with local fire districts to explore collaborative relationships through which emergency medical services could be provided more cost effectively. In February, Summit County and the Red, White & Blue Fire District entered into a partnership whereby Red, White & Blue now serves as the first-call agency for 911 calls in the Breckenridge area, making better use of the fire district's existing resources for emergency medical response. Discussions with all the local fire districts, St. Anthony's Summit Medical Center and Flight For Life Colorado are on-going, in pursuit of additional opportunities for partnerships that would result in a more efficient and robust emergency medical services system in the long term.

The proposed ballot measure would provide about $1.45 million per year to enhance and upgrade emergency communications technology for the Summit County Communications Center, which provides 911 dispatch services. The center answers Summit County's 911 emergency calls and dispatches the appropriate public safety resources, such as fire protection, ambulance, search and rescue, law enforcement, to emergency scenes. The Communications Center is also responsible for radio and other communications for most public safety departments in Summit County.

The Summit County Communications Center has come under increasing financial pressure in recent years. The center's operations are funded through fees placed on local telephone lines, which have been declining in number. Since 2007, the number of local land lines has dropped by nearly half, from 25,546 to 13,982 in 2013. The total number of lines, including hard lines, wireless and VoIP, has dropped nearly 20 percent, from 42,452 in 2007 to 34,505 in 2013. Many residents and second homeowners rely exclusively on mobile phones that originate in the locations of prior residences in other communities. Consequently, any taxes or fees on those numbers are not paid to Summit County.

The Summit County Communications Center and its communications network infrastructure are in need of upgrades that would replace outdated technologies. The upgrades would enable dispatchers to take emergency calls and activate responders more quickly, and better facilitate communication among first responders during wildfires, mass casualties and other incidents. The center does not currently have Next Generation 911 (NG911) capabilities to accept text messages for help, nor can they receive photos and relay them to first responders so they can be best prepared for the incidents they encounter.

The ballot measure would also generate about $630,000 per year for water quality protections. Summit County's history is rooted in the mining booms of the late 1800s, which caused environmental contamination that persists today. Acid drainage from abandoned mines and mine tailings continues to release heavy metals such as zinc and cadmium into local waterways.

In partnership with public- and private-sector organizations at the local, state and federal levels, Summit County has worked to restore streams and riparian habitats and to clean up mining pollution in many locations, including Peru Creek, Sts. John Creek, Tenmile Creek, the Swan River, and the Blue River south of Dillon Reservoir. Funding generated through the proposed mill levy would strengthen the County's ability to undertake such projects in the future.

The water-quality portion of the mill levy's funding would also address modern-day threats to water quality, such as household hazardous waste, prescription medications and electronics waste. These types of waste can pollute local water supplies when disposed of improperly.

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