|As of January 1, 2019, fire and emergency services in the City of Littleton will be handled by South Metro Fire Rescue|
The City of Littleton is working towards unifying with South Metro Fire Rescue to provide affordable and effective fire services for the community. Unification is a complicated process, so it’s important to keep our facts straight. Read on to see what’s fact and what’s fiction about this process.
The Decision Process
Fiction: Littleton Fire Rescue is the only fire district joining South Metro Fire Rescue.
Fact: Littleton Fire Rescue will be the third district in our area to join South Metro Fire Rescue. In November 2017, the other partners of Littleton Fire Rescue (Littleton Fire Protection District and the Highlands Ranch Metro District) gave notice that they planned to terminate the existing agreement on December 31, 2018. As of January 1, 2019, these partners will be part of South Metro Fire Rescue and the Littleton Fire Rescue partnership will no longer exist.
Fiction: Littleton City Council has only been working on this decision for a few months.
Fact: Studies around fire service options started in 2008, and the concept of unification with South Metro Fire Rescue was introduced to Council in September 2016. Unification of dispatch service was approved in October 2017, and partners sent letters terminating the agreement in November 2017.
When these letters were received, the City accelerated the process of evaluating options to ensure that fire and emergency services are uninterrupted during the transition.
Fiction: Littleton City Council has been negotiating the agreement behind closed doors.
Fact: Unlike most Colorado cities, Littleton’s City Charter does not permit City Council to have closed sessions to provide instruction and guidance on negotiations. The public is welcome to attend all City Council meetings and sessions.
Fiction: The process to join with South Metro Fire Rescue was accelerated without cause.
Fact: Highlands Ranch and the Littleton Fire Protection District announced in 2017 that they would leave the partnership and join South Metro Fire Rescue starting Jan. 1, 2019. Without these fire partners, Littleton was put in a tough position.
The City had to establish a plan of action to ensure that residents would still receive fire and emergency services at the beginning of 2019. Discussions about unification have taken place for over two years, which gave City Council plenty of time to evaluate all the options and set a direction in April 2018.
Fiction: Littleton has never had a standalone fire service.
Fact: Here’s a good piece of trivia – Littleton had a volunteer fire service from 1890 to 1948, which was when the Littleton Fire Rescue partnership began. Under that partnership, fire service continued as a volunteer system until 1960.
South Metro Fire Rescue Election
Fiction: By being included with South Metro, Littleton will be paying more than its fair share for fire services. Some of our payments will also be used to compensate for other communities paying less.
Fact: Littleton property owners will be paying less than their fair share for South Metro’s services. All communities within South Metro have the same property tax rate to pay for fire services – 9.25 mills. Based on 2017 tax collections and response numbers, Littleton’s tax payments to South Metro will make up 7.8% of the revenue collected from all communities in the district. However, calls in Littleton would have made up 12.5% of the calls South Metro responded to in 2017. So Littleton is paying less per call than average for communities in the district.
Fiction: Littleton City Council does not need any more approvals before moving forward with South Metro Fire Rescue.
Fact: There are a couple steps to officially join with South Metro Fire Rescue. While Council reached an agreement with South Metro Fire Rescue to provide fire and emergency services to the community, there is still the matter of how to pay for the services. This is what will be voted on in November 2018.
Voter approval would mean that our citizens say “yes” to increasing their property taxes in order to fully join South Metro Fire Rescue. This would also give the City of Littleton the go-ahead to reduce its property tax rate and dedicate the funds formerly used for fire operations to street maintenance, a high-priority need.
Fiction: If voters don’t approve inclusion with South Metro Fire Rescue, the City will be able to pay for fire services on its own.
Fact: Should voters not approve the inclusion and tax increase, the City will face some financial difficulties. In this case, the City would be required to pay for fire services out of the same fund that covers Police, Public Works and other essential city services. That approach is not financially sustainable, and would quickly require cuts to those same essential services. Plus, the additional street maintenance projects would be eliminated.
Fiction: The inclusion questions cannot be presented to voters again should it not be approved in November.
Fact: The agreement with South Metro Fire Rescue is structured to allow the ballot question to be part of a total of three elections.
Service Level & Costs
Fiction: The city’s “unrestricted net position which may be used to meet the government’s ongoing obligations to citizens and creditors” was $80 million at the end of 2017.
Fact: The city’s $80.3 million unrestricted net position includes all funds which account for all services the city provides. However, many of these funds are restricted such as the Sewer and Storm Drainage funds which can only be used to pay for sewer and storm drainage improvements. The Capital Projects fund pays for assets such as police cars, computers and snow plows. The General Fund has a minimum reserve required by TABOR and pays for the other services citizens expect such as police officers, code enforcement, the library, museum, and senior transportation. Without approval of 7B, the General Fund reserve will be depleted within four years and cuts will have to be made to cover the cost of fire services.
Fiction: The City of Littleton has surplus reserves in its budget that could be used to pay for South Metro fire services.
Fact: Just like your savings account, the City does maintain a level of reserves to use during special circumstances. It is not only smart fiscal policy, but it is also required by the State of Colorado.
The majority of reserves is dedicated for specific purposes (such as capital improvements, wastewater treatment, and sewer collection) and cannot be used for day-to-day services. A portion of reserves lives in the General Fund, which is not tied to specific purposes.
The City could use General Fund reserves to cover fire costs for up to 4 years. However, reserves would run out after that and the City has no way to replenish those funds without detracting from other City services or raising taxes. The City would also need to rely on these reserves should an economic decline occur in the next few years.
Fiction: Joining South Metro Fire Rescue will increase my property taxes and decrease the level of fire protection service.
Fact: It’s true that property taxes will increase with this change (about $10 per month on a $370K home). However, citizens will receive a much higher level of service through South Metro Fire Rescue.
South Metro Fire Rescue is a nationally-accredited fire department with an Insurance Service Organization (ISO) rating of 1, which is the highest possible rating. Littleton Fire Rescue couldn’t meet the accreditation standards and currently has an ISO rating of 3. The higher ISO rating with South Metro Fire Rescue could also lower home and business insurance costs.
Fiction: It’s unpredictable what the final change in my property taxes will be.
Fact: The increase in property taxes initiated by South Metro Fire Rescue has already been laid out in the agreement. Along with that, the City has already calculated how much its tax rate can be reduced in order to still be able to fund needed street maintenance projects.
On average, residents will pay about $10 more a month in property taxes and businesses will see an increase around $100 more each month. See the full breakdown here.Fiction: 7B Fire Unification has nothing to do with street improvements.
Fact: Should voters approve 7B, $3.1 million of the city’s General Fund will be dedicated to street maintenance and improvements.
Fiction: Street maintenance is not a priority to Littleton residents.
Fact: In citizen surveys since 2012, residents have told the city that street maintenance and improvements are a top priority. The city is similar to nearly every municipality in Colorado in that the need for improvement exceeds available funding. Due to a lack of funding, the city has been forced to allow streets to continue to deteriorate and is not able to properly maintain the streets at the level desired by citizens. Street quality is assessed on a scale of 1-100 known as the Pavement Condition Index (PCI). Littleton’s streets rate well below the target minimum score of 70 at 61. When roads fall into a rating of 50 and below, maintenance treatments don’t work anymore and pavement has to be rebuilt, usually costing 10 times as much. Spend a dime today or a dollar tomorrow.
Fiction: $3.1 million will not benefit the street conditions.
Fact: There are 350 lane miles of streets in the city. Approximately one-third of streets are in fair condition and two-thirds are declining or are in poor condition. It is estimated that an additional $2.5 million per year is needed to maintain the current condition and $3 million is needed per year to achieve an average condition rating of 70.
Fiction: The additional $3.1 million in funds will not benefit the city.
Fact: The increased funding will allow the city to increase the number of miles improved by 150 percent. Additionally, the engineering staff will be in a better position to use the right treatment at the right time and not be forced to do minor surface treatment when the road needs a more significant rehabilitation.
Fiction: The city is not working on a Transportation Master Plan.
Fact: Citizens be assured that the city is using the most cost-effective methods when performing road construction or street maintenance. The city is developing a Transportation Master Plan and has incorporated industry approved engineering standards into all projects. These best management practices strategically identify the most effective methods for tackling a variety of projects. In addition, of the $4 million total that will be spent on roads each year, over 90 percent will be contracted out to the private sector, creating jobs and pushing money back into the local economy.
Fiction: The city did not adopt a resolution in April 2018.
Fact: Citizens can be assured that the $3.1 million will go to roads. At its meeting April 17, the Littleton City Council adopted an ordinance establishing the Capital Projects Reserve Account where the $3.1 million will be accounted for. The city council also adopted a resolution at its August 21 meeting further solidifying council’s commitment to a reduction in the property tax mill levy and deposit of funds into a capital projects reserve account should voters approve the inclusion in the November 2018 election.