Fund Board OKs $3.3 million

Dipping into reserves will fund all requests from district, commissions

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— The Steamboat Springs Education Fund Board said 'yes' to everything Wednesday night, approving a budget of more than $3.3 million for the 2007 fiscal year.

That amount is not only more than enough to fund every request presented to the board by its three commissions and the school district -- including $950,000 for an addition to Steamboat Springs Middle School, a $200,000 contingency reserve, salaries for more than 20 teachers and aides, technology upgrades and instructional materials -- it also is likely the largest amount the board has allocated since its inception in 1992.

"This is probably the highest," said Michael Loomis, a former member of the Steamboat Springs School Board and a Fund Board member since 2003. "I think that in most years, spending exceeds the prior year, because our sales tax revenues keep increasing."

Although the Fund Board's projected 2007 revenues from a citywide half-cent sales tax are about $2.5 million, well short of the $3.3 million allocated for spending, board members decided to respond to a public perception that the board's long-term reserve is too large by dipping into that reserve for spending at district schools.

Board Treasurer Tom Ptach said the long-term reserve is projected to reach $2.9 million by July 1, the end of the 2006 fiscal year.

"I have heard some comments about the reserve we're sitting on," Ptach said.

Several other board members echoed that sentiment, saying Steamboat residents have told them that sales-tax dollars should be spent on the children of taxpayers, not locked up in the bank.

Because the sales tax is dep----endent on approval by Steam--boat voters -- it will be on the ballot in 2008 -- the Fund Board traditionally has kept a large reserve in case the sales tax is rejected and its revenues disappear.

If all of the $3.3 million were spent next year, the board's reserve would stand at just more than $2 million.

"That's a little bit below our goal of keeping a reserve equal to one year's expenditures, but it's still a healthy reserve," Ptach said.

After approving the budget, the board voted unanimously to give final approval to the middle school addition, which would include nearly 4,000 square feet of office space and a heated walkway in front of the school.

The Steamboat Springs Sch----ool Board is scheduled to act on the addition at its March 13 meeting. Superintendent Don--na Howell said that, pending approval, "the goal would be to get it done this summer."

"That would solve a lot of problems at the middle school," said district facilities director Rick Denney, who designed the addition with input from school officials.

The Fund Board voted to boost the $650,000 originally requested for the addition to $950,000, to reduce the amount of loans needed for construction. The cost of the addition is more than $1.2 million.

"I think saving money on interest is a good, real-world decision," board member Harry Lambart said.

The $200,000 contingency reserve -- to be used for future funding needs as they arise -- passed on a 6-5 vote after substantial discussion about the effect on the Fund Board's long-term reserve.

"The board has generally been very reluctant to dip into the long-term reserve," Loomis said.

The three Fund Board commissions -- technology, capital and educational excellence -- will present finalized request lists to the Fund Board, which will gift money for the requests to the School Board.

Although "there's no guarantee that the (School) Board is going to accept all those gifts," Fund Board member Carolyn Peters said Wednesday, Fund Board president Robin Crossan expressed pleasure at how the budget process worked out.

"Obviously, we have to thank the community for supporting us and allowing us to do this," Crossan said.

-- To reach Mike Lawrence, call 871-4203

or e-mail mlawrence@steamboatpilot.com

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