School board votes to put tax on ballot

Funds would subsidize salaries

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— Regardless of whether voters choose to pay to raise teacher and staff salaries to account for the cost of living in Steamboat in this November's election, their property taxes will be going down.

That factor made it particularly easy for the Steamboat School Board to unanimously vote it onto this November's ballot. And school board members think it will also help the tax pass muster with the rest of the community.

"That was probably the most compelling argument for the group," said Jason Throne, a parent of a Strawberry Park Elementary student who was on the committee presenting the tax to the board.

Because the assessed valuation in the school district has risen from $382 million to $510 million in the past year, in part because of the construction of new high-end properties in and around Steamboat, existing homeowners and businesses will almost invariably end up paying less than they did last year. Last year, the school district collected 27.2 mills from each residential and commercial property. Next year, property owners will pay 20.7 mills or, if voters decide to pay the property tax increase, 22.2 mills. One way or the other, the tax increase will still be a decrease overall.

On a home valued at $300,000, the tax increase would mean a total payment of $609, while without the tax increase, the same home would be assessed $568. On a commercial property valued at $300,000, the tax increase would mean a cost of $1,932, and without the increase it would come to $1,801.

The tax increase would raise money for teacher and support staff salaries. Starting salaries for Steamboat teachers are a full $7,000 below the national average and well below other school districts in Colorado. The tax increase could bring in $773,000 more to the district.

With large-scale teacher turnover on the horizon, the school board has made it a priority to make Steamboat salaries more competitive.

There is a potential for a 67-percent turnover rate among Steamboat teachers in the next five years, said Mike Smith, the president of the Steamboat Springs Education Association. Just this year, 26 new teachers were brought on line out of a staff of 135. With new teachers to hire and similar staffing needs throughout the state and the nation, the district will need to stay competitive, Smith said.

The state Legislature passed a bill this year allowing school districts to raise their property taxes in accordance with the cost of living in the district, which is measured by the state.

The state uses a finance formula that is adjusted by the Denver/Boulder Consumer Price Index every year to determine how much money each school will receive. It is also adjusted by what is called the "cost of living index," which is multiplied by a base number to determine how much the school district will receive. That factor has changed by mere thousandths of a point in the past eight years even as the cost of living in Steamboat has boomed.

State Rep. Al White, R-Winter Park, sponsored the enabling bill and has already indicated he will support the Steamboat increase. Aspen and Eagle County have already placed similar increases on their ballots.

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