BEHIND THE HEADLINES

A crash course in taxes and pay raises

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Q. How much money is raised for the budget of the Steamboat Springs School District through property taxes and the half-cent sales tax and, for the most part, where does that money go?

A. A significant portion of the district's funding comes from property and specific ownership taxes and the half-cent sales tax. For the fiscal year ending June 30, 2002, we are projecting receiving approximately $11,887,000 in property taxes, and $1,028,000 in half-cent sales taxes. These amounts are 84 percent and 7 percent of the total general fund revenues respectively. With a total of 91 percent of our revenues coming from these two sources, the district is obviously very dependent on tax revenue. In terms of where the money goes, 80 percent of all revenue goes to salaries and benefits. The other 20 percent is spent on equipment, supplies, and purchased services, such as continuing education and repairs to buildings and equipment.

Q. The Steamboat Springs School District has seen a decrease in student population. What does this mean for the district's budget and, if it means a decrease in funding, how does the district plan to react to that situation?

A. The district lost 39 students this year, mostly due to an unusually large graduating class at the high school. However, because the state lets school districts average student count over the last four years, we only dropped 7 funded students. Our revenue per pupil this year is $6,125, so we will lose $42,875 for those 7 students. Unfortunately, in an already tight budget, the district has to tap into our fund balance for that money. If the decreasing student trend continues, however, the district could be in real financial trouble and may have to cut the budget and increase class size.

Q. How did the district determine its teachers and staff need pay raises?

A. The Board of Education and the administrators listened very closely to staff concerns over pay levels versus cost of living in Steamboat Springs. Over the past 7 years, the district has given an average of 4.6 percent in pay raises, the biggest percentages coming in the last 3 years. Over the same time period, the cost of living in Steamboat Springs has increased significantly more than that. Employee buying power has decreased as a result of not keeping up with the cost of living, even though the Board has made a concerted effort to raise salaries in order to attract and retain the best employees available. Another factor is that some of the employees who have left the district recently have cited low pay in relation to cost of living as the major reason for finding employment elsewhere. The cost of living in Steamboat Springs is obviously affecting the district's ability to not only attract, but also to retain quality employees.

Q. How will the budget/multi-year pay plan be affected if the proposed cost of living adjustment is approved Nov. 6?

A. A committee has been exploring options for long-term compensation, but we don't know what the final plan will look like at this point in time. The problem is that the committee has to look not only at salaries, but also things like health insurance, which increased 24 percent this year alone. If the cost of living adjustment is approved in November, the committee will continue to be able to recommend raises like the 6.35 percent increase in pay that employees not at the top of their pay ranges received this year, as well as keep up with the ever increasing cost of benefits.

Q. With a higher assessed property value in the school district, how does that affect what property owners will pay?

A. Because of the substantial increase in assessed value and new construction, the district has been required to lower its mill levy each of the last several years, to the point where the mill levy is now approximately half what it was 7 years ago. Based on numbers provided by the County Assessors office we are projecting that property taxes assessed by the district will actually go down this year! We have estimated that a homeowner with a house valued at $300,000 will see a reduction in school district property taxes from $795 to $568, a $227 savings. A commercial property owner with the same value will see a reduction from $2,367 to $1,801, a savings of $566.

Q. How will property taxes change if the cost of living adjustment is approved?

A. Even if the voters approve the cost of living adjustment in November, the taxpayers of the district will still see a reduction in property taxes to the school district. The savings will not be as much as mentioned above, but using the same analysis, homeowners will see a reduction in property taxes from $795 to $610, a $185 savings. Commercial property owners will see a reduction from $2,367 to $1,932, a savings of $435. The important point is that even if the cost of living adjustment passes, taxpayers will still see a reduction of their School District property taxes this year.

Q. If the cost of living adjustment doesn_t get approved, has the district looked at other funding options to give teachers and staff raises?

A. The District is always looking at ways to raise additional revenue such as grants and fund-raisers. We are also constantly looking at the budget for ways to save money. Additionally, the Board of Education and the Superintendent consistently urge the Colorado Department of Education and the State to pass legislation to more adequately fund Colorado school districts.

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