Child-care taxes debated

City, council officials clash over whether initiatives should be linked

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— City and county officials continue to debate early childhood education tax initiatives that will appear on the November ballot.

The city has agreed to put a sales-tax question on the ballot that could raise about $1.5 million if approved by voters. The county agreed to put a property-tax increase on the ballot that would raise $600,000.

The point of contention between officials, however, is whether these issues are linked.

City Councilwoman Kathy Connell said her fellow council members want the two ballot questions linked so that if one fails, the other fails, too.

"We want to make sure this is a countywide issue," Connell said.

She said some Steamboat Springs voters might feel there would be "double dipping" going on with city residents paying for a sales tax as well as the county property tax. Connell said she felt this could prompt city residents to vote against the property-tax increase.

"Double dipping?" Commissioner Doug Monger asked. "I pay as much sales tax as you do," he told Connell. Monger lives in the county, but said, like most county residents, he spends much of his money in Steamboat.

Monger said county commissioners don't want the issues linked even if the property-tax increase was the only way to help fund early childhood education.

Monger asked what the point of voting on the early childhood education tax issue was if council members wanted to ignore voters.

"If you do that, you're not really responding to what your constituency wants," Monger said.

Meanwhile, the group that pushed the issue to the ballot in the city is working on a way to word the initiative so the voters will know exactly where the money is going and who will oversee its spending. The group met for the first time Tuesday.

Connell warned the group and the First Impressions board that they need to address the issue Aug. 21, when they meet with the City Council.

"Be prepared," Connell said.

First Impressions is the nonprofit board that oversees licensed child-care facilities in Routt County.

The group moved ahead on developing points on how money would be spent.

Funds collected, according to the group, would be primarily spent on "family scholarships" given to eligible working families in Routt County who attended qualified programs.

A second priority would be to help develop or expand early childhood education for some of the estimated 500 Routt County children not being served.

A third priority would be administrative costs, which would likely be a new county employee who would do financial background checks on families and facilities who apply for funds.

A nine-person Citizen's Advisory Board would develop eligibility standards for the scholarships with final approval coming from City Council and the county commission.

The advisory board would also develop criteria for participating child-care providers and a plan to monitor the quality of education.

If both tax issues passed, they would sunset in four years.

With a four-year report card on the effects of the early childhood education tax, voters could then decide whether their money was well spent and once again vote on keeping or dumping the tax increases.

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