South Routt eyes Steamboat sales tax

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State lawmakers aren't the only outsiders who have taken an interest in Steamboat Springs' half-cent sales tax for education.

The South Routt School Board would like to see more of the $2 million in annual revenue generated by the tax go to its students, a stance that's prompting its members to take a closer look at Steamboat's unique funding source for educational programs and projects.

"There's quite a strong contingent within the community and on the board that feel that since most of our constituents pay that tax, the students in South Routt should benefit from it," South Routt Superintendent Steve Jones said.

Steamboat voters have approved on three occasions a half-cent city sales tax for which the revenue -- about $2 million annually -- is spent on technology, capital projects and other educational programs for the Steamboat Springs School District. Since first approved in 1993, the tax has generated nearly $20 million for the 1,800-student school system.

The tax has been a bone of contention for years for some South Routt residents, particularly because many in the rural community spend significant amounts of money each year at Steamboat businesses, board members said. Many in the South Routt community, including board members, want some of that tax revenue returned to the people who helped generate it.

"In essence, we're all part of the Steamboat Springs community," South Routt School Board member Tim Corrigan said at the group's Thursday meeting. "The livelihood of Steamboat Springs depends on South Routt continuing to provide a work force and other things for that community."

Jones said his district has requested money from the Steamboat Springs Education Fund in past years but never received a "positive response."

After hearing that the Education Fund Board -- the group responsible for allocating the tax revenue -- was altering some of its bylaws in an attempt to avoid future threats to the legality of the sales tax, Jones said he and others within the district figured it was a good time to discuss funding possibilities with the Fund Board. The bylaw changes are in response to last year's attempt by a prominent Republican lawmaker to outlaw the Steamboat Springs School District's ability to spend money generated by the sales tax.

"If we could get just a small part of it, it would certainly help with some of our budget constraints," Jones said.

Longtime Fund Board President Jim Gill said he's open to discussing the issue with the South Routt School District, but questioned whether the language of the tax initiatives approved by Steamboat voters and the intergovernmental agreement between the city of Steamboat and the Steamboat Springs School District would prevent the Fund Board from granting money to outside school districts.

"We have to honor the intergovernmental agreement, our bylaws and the ballot language people voted for," Gill said. "What did we tell taxpayers we were going to do? I don't remember telling them we were going to spend money on (school districts in) Oak Creek and Hayden."

Gill also said the South Routt and Hayden school districts have benefited from the sales tax because the Fund Board pays the salary of a grants writer who has helped secure more than $2 million in funds for Steamboat's two neighboring districts.

South Routt School Board member Kevin Gneiser said he planned to contact Gill about the issue, and Jones told board members he would have the district's attorney look at the language of the most recently approved ballot initiative to determine whether his district is eligible to receive funds from the sales tax.

-- To reach Brent Boyer call 871-4234

or e-mail bboyer@steamboatpilot.com

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