Sunday, September 3, 2006
The Steamboat Springs School Board made the right decision Monday to put a $29.7 million bond issue on the Nov. 7 ballot. At the same time, the Steamboat Springs City Council also was right to postpone a bond issue for a new recreation center.
The School Board and school administration have been thorough in their preparations. Most of the bond funds would be used to replace Soda Creek Elementary School; the rest would be for improvements at Strawberry Park Elementary.
The district has sought public input three times, holding public hearings last fall and in the spring and then making presentations to elementary school teachers earlier this month. When board member John DeVincentis asked for additional kindergarten classrooms a few weeks back, the architect revised the drawings and adjusted the price to include them. When Board member Denise Connelly asked for teacher input on the design, meetings were arranged and held.
The plans call for Soda Creek to be rebuilt on site; we previously disagreed with that site choice. However, the school district has done its homework. Public input has shown repeatedly that a majority of residents want the school to stay where it is.
There are still issues to be worked out. Soda Creek Elementary needs to be replaced, but that alone won't get a bond issue approved. Can taxpayers be convinced that what they're getting in facilities is worth the rise in property taxes they'll have to pay? Are the plans efficient and practical, or are they exorbitant and unnecessarily costly? Those are questions bond supporters must answer in the next two months.
The School Board added a mill-levy override to the ballot to fund teacher pay increases. That decision is not without risk. If taxpayers decide that the district is asking for too much, it could create a backlash against both proposals. The district will argue that, because debt is about to be retired on previous construction, the new debt will replace it and that taxpayers won't notice an increase. But make no mistake - residents will have to pay more in taxes to support these issues.
By contrast, the proposed community recreation center never has had the same sense of public buy-in that the school bond issue has. We think the community will support a well-planned recreation center; however, it was clear that the city lacked consensus on what amenities the center should include and how much it should cost.
It wasn't until earlier this month that the city conducted a survey of residents to gauge support for a community center. What that survey showed is that although residents are supportive of a center, they are leery of paying usage fees and that they were less likely to approve a new recreation center in an election when they also are being asked to build a new elementary school.
Recreation center advocates now have more than a year to gather public input and develop a recreation center plan the community can and probably would support in November 2007. They should waste no time getting started.