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Colo. ambulance District wants to be tax-supported

PUEBLO, Colo. The Beulah Ambulance District has been an all-volunteer operation for 30 years, but as the community grows, some in the area now hope to establish a taxing district in order to hire an administrator and ensure 24-hour service.

Pueblo County commissioners conducted a public hearing on the district's service plan this week, but didn't make a decision pending a similar hearing before the county's planning commission Tuesday.

If the county approves the service plan, it will be submitted next to the district court for approval, and the judge will set the issue for an election in November, County Attorney Dan Kogovsek said. Residents of the district and nonresident property owners who are registered to vote anywhere else in Colorado may vote on the district.

A side issue is whether people who live and/or own property in the district may be excluded from the district and its taxes. Kogovsek said 31 individuals who own 66 parcels of property have requested to be excluded.

Anne Moulton, one of the leaders of the taxation effort, said the ambulance district has answered between 54 and 59 calls a year for the past three years. Volunteers would continue to provide service, but the district needs a paid staffer to handle the administration and also to ensure that someone is available if a call comes during the day.

She acknowledged that the hardy mountain ethic in the community may work against the ambulance district. "There's the story about one man who chain-sawed himself twice and drove himself to the hospital both times," she said. "But what happens if he does it again and he can't get up?"

If a patient needs to be taken to a hospital in Pueblo, the ambulance district calls AMR in the city and transfers the patient on the roadside of Colorado 78.

"We would like to develop our service to the point that we can take some patients into the hospital and charge the insurance companies," she said. Some parts of the ambulance district are an hour away from AMR -- and therefore two hours from a hospital if the Beulah ambulance didn't exist.

However, some residents of the eastern edge of the district, in the Rock Creek neighborhood, are asking to be excluded from the district because they are actually closer to Pueblo than to the Beulah ambulance garage at the Beulah School.

Laurie Clark, who lives in that area, said she supports the district in other ways but doesn't see much benefit that her family would derive from the 7-mill property tax the district proposes.

The tax bill, Moulton said, will be $55 a year for a property assessed at $100,000 value. The district's lawyer, Tom Mullans, told commissioners that if property owners are allowed to "opt out" of the district it could undermine the whole effort.

Commissioner Loretta Kennedy said she couldn't see the justification for imposing the ambulance tax on vacant land, but Mullans said, "If they're driving an ATV or riding horseback on the land and they get hurt, they need the service."

If all the vacant properties in the district were excluded, Moulton calculated it would reduce the tax revenue by $6,000 of the anticipated $70,000.

Most of the Beulah residents who spoke at the meeting supported the mill levy. "Please allow us to tax ourselves," said Rich Golenda, who added, "I don't think there should be a cafeteria plan on taxes. People should not be allowed to opt out on emergency services."

And Leslie Biondolillo, an EMT who volunteers for the ambulance company, said, "We're asking to exist and to serve."

Commissioners will act on the service plan and exclusion requests after the planning commission makes a finding on the service plan next week.

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