Updated March 28, 2007 at 12:33 p.m.
Steamboat Springs We can't blame school administrators in Hayden and South Routt for seeking a portion of revenues from Steamboat Springs' half-cent sales tax for education. We would do the same thing if we were in their shoes.
We think there can be a stronger regional approach to programs paid for with sales-tax funds, but it's hard to see a day when funds are distributed proportionately to all three school districts.
The half-cent sales tax for education was implemented in 1993 in the city limits of Steamboat Springs. Since that initial year, the revenues produced by the tax have grown immensely - to a projected $2.7 million this year. So too has the Steamboat Springs School District's reliance on the funds.
The funds are administered by the Education Fund Board, which gifts the money to the School Board. The tax is not applied anywhere else in the county, a frequently used argument for keeping the money in Steamboat Springs.
Note that the Fund Board pays for a grant writer who helps Hayden and Soroco. Historically, the Fund Board has been unwilling to do much more. In fact, as recently as 2005, Soroco approached Steamboat about sharing in Fund Board revenues. The board responded by passing a resolution supporting keeping the tax dollars focused on Steamboat students.
It would be good if Hayden or Oak Creek could simply pass its own half-cent sales tax for education, but each is already at the maximum the state allows a statutory town. Routt County cannot pass a sales tax increase to support public schools.
Hayden Superintendent Mike Luppes and Soroco Superintendent Kelly Reed make the point that residents of their communities do a significant amount of shopping in Steamboat Springs, thus contributing significantly to the sales tax proceeds. That's probably true, but if you extend that argument to all Steamboat visitors, the Education Fund Board dollars would have to be shared with schools in Dallas, Houston, Chicago and New York.
We understand the Fund Board's hesitancy. The political reality is the board must get the tax renewed before it expires in 2009 and it will depend strictly on the whim of Steamboat Springs voters. Increasing funds given to Hayden and Soroco isn't exactly a winning strategy in that election.
But certainly the Fund Board can do a better job of contributing to regional projects that would benefit education throughout the county. Some examples would include supporting the construction of the expanded vocational center in Hayden and the regional Yampa Valley Science School program. And perhaps programs funded by the Fund Board can be opened to all students in the county, even if they are based in Steamboat Springs.
Taking such an approach may require a shift in funding priorities, but that is something that has been needed for years anyway. Many have come to the Fund Board with the notion that the Fund Board has millions to distribute each year. In reality, so long as the Fund Board continues to pay for what it has funded historically, the vast majority of Fund Board dollars are committed before the process even starts. In fact, requests are expected to be $1 million more than revenues this year.
In its history the Fund Board has taken in an estimated $23.8 million - a huge boon to the students in the Steamboat Springs School District. The Fund Board should want the programs it funds to extend to more students in the county. But in the short term, it's doubtful that the dollars can be shared to the level Hayden and Soroco want.