Fund Board to survey voters

Residents to be asked about half-cent sales tax for education

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Before asking voters to approve the half-cent sales tax for education, a survey will be conducted to learn what Steamboat residents want the tax to be used for and whether they would support it again.

The tax does not expire until 2009, and it will be brought before voters in the November 2008 election. And a survey likely will not be conducted until the beginning of 2008.

Members of the Steamboat Springs Fund Board, the group that allocates money generated from the tax for education, agreed at their Wednesday night meeting that such a survey would be the best way to gauge public support for the tax.

The tax has been passed in 1993, 1996 and 1999. In 1999, the tax passed by a slim margin, Fund Board President Robin Crossan said. She had concerns about whether the Fund Board is on the right track to bring the issue back to the voters in 2008.

Traditionally, the Fund Board has used the tax for small class sizes, technology and capital needs. The survey will help determine whether those priorities still hold.

Members discussed possibly clarifying the 2008 ballot language that the funds would be used only in the Steamboat Springs School District and possibly asking for a four-year lifetime for the tax instead of an eight-year lifetime.

The survey will help determine whether those changes are important to voters.

In the coming months, Crossan and Fund Board member Norm Weaver will begin to chart a timeline for when to take steps to bring the ballot issue back to voters.

Board members discussed the relationship between the Fund Board and the school district.

Pat Gleason, a member of the Steamboat Springs School Board and the Fund Board, said he saw it as a difference of necessities and "nice" things. The school district is responsible for providing necessities, and the half-cent sales tax can help fund things such as small classes that are not required.

In other business:

Fund Board members began a discussion about the budget process. Most members supported a flexible system that allows funds to be spent on the greatest needs.

Fund Board members discussed their views of reserves. Currently, the Fund Board holds about $2 million, or one year's worth of funds, in reserves. Several members supported spending that down to $1 million, and others supported keeping at least a year's worth of funds in reserves, especially as the tax is up for renewal and could be voted down.

Superintendent Donna Howell updated the Fund Board about the draft budget for the school district and said additional revenues and expenditures were likely and that the school district was anticipating a $117,000 deficit. She alerted the Fund Board that she could return with requests to help fund needs, such as the hiring of additional teachers at the middle school.

The Fund Board gave a first reading to requests for defibrillators at various locations across the district and approved gifting $11,000 for technology training to the school district.

-- To reach Susan Cunningham, call 871-4203 or e-mail scunningham@steamboatpilot.com

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