South Routt to mull sales tax

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Steamboat Springs' half-cent sales tax for education again will be on the minds of South Routt School Board members when they gather tonight for their regularly scheduled meeting.

Last month, South Routt board members expressed their belief that proceeds from the sales tax should benefit all Routt County students, not just those who attend Steamboat's public school system. Accordingly, the South Routt School Board would like to see some of the revenue collected from the tax spent on the needs of its cash-strapped district.

"Our needs are, in many times, greater than Steamboat Springs' needs," South Routt Superintendent Steve Jones said Wednesday. "Let them hear what some of our needs are. Let us be part of the process."

Steamboat voters have approved the sales tax on three occasions. Since first approved in 1993, the tax has generated nearly $20 million for the 1,800-student school system. Proceeds from the tax typically are spent on the Steamboat Springs School District's capital and technology needs and desires, as well as for other projects that improve the quality of the district's educational programs.

The $2 million in annual revenue from the tax is spent almost exclusively on the Steamboat Springs School District. For the past several years, the Education Fund Board, the nonprofit group that oversees the tax revenue, has spent about $60,000 a year on a grants writer who works for all three Routt County school districts.

At their meeting last month, South Routt School Board members said many people within their community think more of the tax revenue should be spent in South Routt, particularly because most South Routt residents shop and spend significant amounts of money in Steamboat.

"In essence, we're all part of the Steamboat Springs community," board member Tim Corrigan said last month. "The livelihood of Steamboat Springs depends on South Routt continuing to provide a work force and other things for that community."

Jones said he has been in contact with the district's attorney regarding whether the tax revenue can be spent on other districts. Jones will discuss that conversation with the School Board tonight.

Fund Board President Jim Gill has said that his group must honor the commitment it made to Steamboat voters when they passed the tax in 1993, 1996 and 1999.

But for some people, such as Jones, questions remain about what that commitment was. The ballot language used in all three elections said only that the tax be used for "educational purposes." No mention was made of the Steamboat Springs School District. For others, the beneficiary of the tax was perfectly clear -- it was being voted on only by residents of the city of Steamboat.

The South Routt School Board also is scheduled to discuss its superintendent search process and the formation of a community panel to address the School Board about district-related issues. The School Board meets at 7 p.m. today inside the administration building behind Soroco High School.

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