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Two Ballot Issues Approved in Lafayette

September 02, 2008
Two ballot issues approved in Lafayette By Amy Bounds Tuesday, August 19, 2008 LAFAYETTE — The city is asking voters in November for a fire and ambulance services tax hike. The City Council unanimously approved the emergency services ballot question Tuesday night, along with approving a ballot question for a lodging tax. “It’s basic services,” said councilman Jay Ruggeri about the emergency services ballot issue. “It’s life or death stuff. It’s definitely needed.” For fire and ambulance services, the city wants to increase the mill levy by 4.5 mills to generate about $1.5 million in 2009. The increase would cost the owner of a $350,000 home about $125 a year. “It’s extremely reasonable,” said Fire Chief Gerry Morrell. Now, said City Administrator Gary Klaphake, the city only has enough money for minimum fire department staffing. The city is transitioning from a staff of volunteer firefighters to one of professional firefighters. In 2005, Lafayette hired two full-time firefighters and one full-time training officer. Prior to that, the fire chief was the only member of the department on the payroll. In 2006, the city received grant money from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to add nine full-timers over four years. If the tax increase passes, Klaphake said, the money would cover eight additional firefighters and paramedics, with three on duty around the clock at the fire station. The station is one of busiest in Boulder County, with close to 2,000 calls a year, officials said. Now there’s typically one or two professionals on duty per shift, with gaps filled by volunteers. City officials said volunteers will still be needed to help with structure fires and other major emergencies. Lafayette also took over ambulance services from a private contractor in 2007 with the goal of reducing response times. But the user fees don’t cover the costs, requiring the city to spend about $250,000 from its general fund budget for the service. The tax increase would cover that gap and provide money to replace aging ambulances. The other ballot measure, a 2 percent lodging tax, would generate $75,000 to $100,000 a year for the city’s general fund, based on construction of a hotel north of Exempla Good Samaritan Medical Center in the SoLa development. Phillip Patterson, Lafayette’s director of planning and building, said he expects work on the 82-acre-development’s infrastructure to start later this year. Along with a hotel, the plans include apartments, retail, restaurants, commercial buildings and a senior living facility. A second hotel also is possible.