Survey: Residents strongly support school district

Positive responses indicate voters could approve tax increases


— Results of a recent survey directed by the Steamboat Springs School District could be another step toward placing at least one tax increase proposal on the November ballot.

The survey, conducted from June 4 to 6 by Hill Research Consultants, included telephone interviews with 303 Steamboat voters. An international company named RBC Capital Markets paid for and analyzed the survey. RBC Director Dan O'Connell and RBC economist Rudy Andras reviewed survey results with the Steamboat Springs School Board on Monday night. O'Connell said positive responses to questions about Steamboat schools indicate that voters likely would approve a $600,000 mill-levy override, or property tax increase, to generate funds for school district use.

Sixty-seven percent of res--pondents gave local schools a grade of 'A' or 'B.' That number is 10 percent higher than responses to the same question in a similar Steamboat survey in 1997, O'Connell said. Sixty-eight percent of respondents said the school district is headed in "the right direction," which Andras said bodes well for a ballot issue.

"Oftentimes, people don't vote on the proposal per se -- they vote on how they think you're doing," Andras told the School Board. "You're going to have a high correlation between people who say you're on the right track and 'yes' votes."

Steamboat taxpayers have been generating $600,000 in annual school district revenue for more than 10 years, said Dale Mellor, the district's financial director. That money has paid for district expenses such as remodeling at Strawberry Park Elementary School. Because those payments finished in Dec--ember, taxpayers are scheduled to see relief next year -- unless they approve a new bond issue or mill-levy override in November.

Also as part of the survey, 56 percent of respondents supported a new $600,000 override.

On Tuesday, Superintendent Donna Howell said placing a bond issue on the November ballot asking voters for more than $20 million to fund a new elementary school to replace the aging Soda Creek facility is not out of the question.

"I still think it's up in the air as to whether there is time for that," Howell said. "The (survey) information was very encouraging in terms of community support."

O'Connell said Hill Research Consultants has conducted more than 60 surveys across Colorado and supported numerous ballot issues with a very good success rate.

"We haven't lost any (ballot issues) where support (shown in surveys) is above 50 percent," O'Connell told the School Board.

Howell said Tuesday that although the School Board still needs to discuss any possible ballot proposal, spending $600,000 from an override on attracting and retaining school staff -- which received 78 percent support in the survey -- could involve salary boosts or housing allowances for teachers.

"We've been working hard to bring our salaries to a competitive level, and specific to this community is the affordable-housing issue," Howell said. "But we don't know how that (spending or ballot proposal) might look."

The School Board could discuss a ballot proposal during a July retreat and potentially act on a proposal at its meeting Aug. 28, Howell said. Ballot issues must be submitted to county Clerk and Recorder Kay Weinland by Sept. 11.

O'Connell said that if the school district decides to move forward with one or more ballot questions, he and Andras would return to Steamboat.

"We're 75 percent successful in passing ballot questions," Andras said Monday. "I think it's because we do a lot of research up front."


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