Second graders Tyra Whitmore and Kianna Whitmore play on a piece of equipment during recess Friday at Strawberry Park Elementary School.

Photo by John F. Russell

Second graders Tyra Whitmore and Kianna Whitmore play on a piece of equipment during recess Friday at Strawberry Park Elementary School.

Fund Board debates reserves as sales tax renewal vote looms

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— Education Fund Board members are questioning how to best manage the fund's reserves in light of the possibility that voters reject an extension of the city's half-cent sales tax for education in November.

Because the sales tax is dependent on approval by Steamboat Springs voters - approval occurred in 1993, 1996 and 1999, and will be on the ballot this year - the Fund Board traditionally has kept a large reserve in case the sales tax is rejected and its revenues disappear.

But some board members advise spending more of the reserves, citing a concern that large reserves send a message to the public that the Fund Board has deep pockets. All board members agree that a plan must be crafted to gradually administer remaining funds if the sales tax expires Dec. 31, 2009.

Board member Denise Connelly, who also is a Steamboat Springs School Board member, said she is hopeful, but not confident, voters will extend the sales tax.

"I'm cautious and I'm fearful what that will mean to our community if it doesn't pass," she said. "I don't take it for granted - it just means too much to our district."

The half-cent sales tax revenue distributed in 2007 to the Steamboat Springs School District increased from $1.9 million to $2.9 million, or 47 percent, since voters renewed the tax in 1999. In 1993, when voters first approved the tax, $1.1 million in sales tax revenues were gifted to the school district.

"In the beginning, $1.1 million was enough to cover pretty much everything we thought we could cover," said board member Kristi Brown. "Now, in 2008, we don't have enough money to fund everything requested."

School district administrators asked the Fund Board in December for $4.4 million in contributions next year, seeking money to support small class sizes, improved security and computer equipment, and completion of delayed construction at Steamboat Springs Middle School.

Through the years, the tax revenues have allowed the district to purchase computers, offer an elementary Spanish program and hire a director of curriculum and instruction, among many other programs, upgrades and staffing needs.

"Capital expenditure costs far more than it did in even 2001," Brown said. "It's not keeping up with the needs of the district. What I find more amazing than the increase in the fund is the increase in the need."

Planning for expiration

The Fund Board's projected 2008 revenues are about $3.1 million, well short of the $4.4 million requested by the school district, according to former city councilman Paul Strong, the Fund Board's accountant.

Strong said if all of the $4.4 million is granted, eating into the Fund Board's reserves, those reserves would then stand at just more than $1.3 million. The board traditionally has reserved a full year of sales tax revenues.

"I don't see this as a financial issue as much as a political issue," Strong said. "If I was a school district person, I'd push for higher reserves so you have the money to wean yourself off this in case it doesn't pass."

Connelly noted there is no easy way to wean the district off of cash revenues that pay the salaries of 16 teachers and much of the district's technology department.

Board member Michael Loomis said he would like to build up reserves to help teachers likely to be cut if the sales tax money transitions out of the school district.

"I would say that, in the past, I've been in favor of keeping a lower reserve of what we normally have, but in this point in time, with the sunset two years away, we should be conservative and build at least one year's budget worth of reserve," he said. "I would not want to see people drop off suddenly. I would like to see a soft landing, so to speak."

But Loomis also is optimistic the sales tax will be renewed.

"If people understand the amount of salaries and benefits that comes out of that for small class sizes, teachers, and pretty much the entire tech staff - and that those people would go away or be funded by the district - then I think they will vote for it," he said.

Board member Jim Kurowksi said he is less concerned about building reserves than planning the budget through the end of 2009.

"We need to focus on finishing the projects we have and funding those projects so they are not undercut by shortages and we don't get the full benefit of them," he said. "There are technology programs, the curriculum programs and lots of money now going into capital."

Tax weary

Last year, board members debated whether to include the sales tax renewal on the November 2007 ballot. According to a survey conducted of potential voters, released in May 2007, there was not enough public support needed to pass the initiative.

The poll by Texas-based Hill Research Consultants determined that because of the negative public perception of the school district, which was indicated in the survey, waiting until 2008 seemed a good decision for a successful sales tax renewal.

But escalating property tax revenues have many board members worried that a new concern could emerge among voters and derail a renewal.

"I think that everybody is tax weary right now," Brown said. "Do we play it safe and keep reserves high and alienate voters who are already upset with paying so much in taxes, or do we throw the dice and spend it down while crossing our fingers it passes?"

In an effort to promote the benefits of the sales tax to the district, the Fund Board has hired Peggy Gonder, of Denver-based public relations firm Gonder and Associates, for $36,000 to assist in promoting the sales tax.

To come to some sort of decision about what to do with Fund Board reserves, Connelly advised Fund Board President Tom Ptach to include a "philosophy talk" at the board's March 5 meeting.

"We have so many people on both sides of the issue," she said. "Whichever it is, building it up or spending it down, and there are pros and cons for doing either one, we need to be clear on both sides of the argument and let the public know that's why we are doing whatever we are doing."

Comments

addlip2U 6 years, 10 months ago

Live within your means. We have to. ...........and save for the "rainy days".

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another_local 6 years, 10 months ago

Do not spend the reserves at least until the issue passes on the ballot. If it fails, the reserves will provide a year of cushion to figure out how to respond to the change. That is one the primary reasons why those reserve have been accumulated.

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steamvent 6 years, 10 months ago

Check your property tax bill folks ... the biggest chunk is for schools, and perhaps it should be, but not when those funds are squandered to cover bad business decisions. I wonder if it would be so easy to pay somebody to leave if there weren't another slush fund to bail you out? Sure, the Education Fund has done a lot of good over the years, but the mentality of "let's spend it so the public thinks we need it" prior to the next ballot is pretty distasteful. People yammer about affordability of housing when affordability across the board is difficult. The next time you are asked to vote to continue or create a tax, think about whether you can really afford it.

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ajrw40 6 years, 10 months ago

Taxes are getting out of hand!!!! Higher values look good on paper but hard on the pocketbook. If one is on a fixed income it is not keeping up with the rising costs of everything.

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letomayo 6 years, 10 months ago

the sales tax is because we need teachers and materials in our schools but the big problem is who wants what and where the money goes. Why don't people who have kids pay more money for the playgrounds and why doesn't the city and county help because everyone uses the playgrounds even tourist.

I didn't know why last year Soda creek got money from the sales tax for books and I thought there school got money from the district all ready to buy books and now isn't Straw park asking for money for books to? Why is that and why is compter stuff keep getting more exspensive instead of cheaper.

Now the district pays for a lot of adminstrators and the teachers are paid for by the sales tax is that so we won't cut it because we will be cutting teachers while the adminstrators get to stay and use up a lot more money.

I will pay taxes for schools but the sales tax people need to quit playing with it to make sure we vote for it again. Everyone can see what they are doing and it is the same people and the same list of things every year. Now if you get rid of it it will hurt the kids and the teachers will lose jobs and we'll have high priced adminstators doing whatever they do that is so important.

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MtnWarlock 6 years, 10 months ago

All, If you take away the 1/2 cent sales tax, you will be taking away funding of things the regular budget cannot sustain. Like most government entities, start a cash hog and you will have to keep feeding it like a heroin addict! This tax has come under the scrutiny of the city and the county for a long time. The school district has shown justification in everything they use the cash for. I believe that the school district has become reliant upon the 1/2 cent tax and if it is voted down, it will put the school district in financial dire straights! I also believe that the positions that were made in regard to the tax, will have to be assumed by the regular budget. This would create a budget crunch and be a devastation to many aspects of the operations of the district. A 14m dollar budget will receive about 150K to 195K a year increase for budgeting., depending on the state COL index. If absorbed 1/2 cent positions are merged with the regular budget, things like raises, cost of living, overtime, insurance premium increases, will be dramatically affected. Books, buildings, and services would be hit as well! The school district, like a lot of local business, cannot find enough people to drive their busses, clean their schools, or fix anything as it is! Some teaching positions have been too hard to fill as well! I do know that for being a school district of excellence, the employees they have must be dynamic under those conditions! I will vote yes, for the ½ cent sales tax this fall. I hate taxes like the rest but, I want our kids to have a decent school environment. I believe you only get what you pay for. If not, go to board meetings and raise hell! It works! My children attended this district. I believe a school district is only as good as the community that backs it! That says a lot about Steamboat! The fall voting will be interesting to see. So will the outcome of a failed vote.

PS: Last year the administration did not see their regular raises. They were frozen to accommodate other issues. Nice administrative perk for schools of excellence, wouldn't you say!

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addlip2U 6 years, 10 months ago

What kind of a message does the Board send when:

"in an effort to promote the benefits of the sales tax to the district, the Fund Board has hired Peggy Gonder, of Denver-based public relations firm Gonder and Associates, for $36,000 to assist in promoting the sales tax.

How many half cents does it take to accumulate $36K? I am voting AGAINST tax next time it comes around!

On another note: Why the School Board has the same members as the Fund Board? I thought when some members of the Fund Board became members of the School Board, they would resign. Is there a "conflict of interest" or one hand is in the pocket of the other?

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MtnWarlock 6 years, 10 months ago

addlip2u, I agree with the 36k. However, I think they spend cash on issues as the regular protocol like elected officials do, when they run for office or a special interest group doe's as it promotes it's agenda. 36k can by a lot of things for schools! Your right about the conflict of interest. But the board has always had a toe in with the fund board. Always has and always will. It's interest based. One requisitions the other. I will not base my vote on how mad I am at the leadership. I will base it on those that count, the kids and all that contibute to their benefit!

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letomayo 6 years, 10 months ago

mtnwar didn't your momma wash your mouth with soap suds when you fibbed, you must be an adminstrator who can't let people know that you get more money from the same percent raise as staff. your salaries are put in the paper. It is always higher salaries that get more money at the same percent. You need to wash your mouth now.

you may be telling the truth about the sales tax and with the cost of keeping what the district has as advantages for our schools and kids but that is wrong with adminstrators taking care of thereselves. you don't fool anyone. Take a bite of soap.

The sales tax group doesn't want elementery Spanish and now not kindergarden because that group wants to tell parents what is good for there kids and schools and they don't know anymore then the rest of us and don't parents pay taxes too. didn't the tax group put adminstraters in the district budget and teachers on the tax budget to force us to vote for the tax to keep the teachers for our kids and the district could do better without so many adminstrators. Now the playgrounds wants money and it is for more kids then the football field and money went to that. More people use playgrounds then the football field when it is empty most of the time and playgrounds are used every day and in the summer to. How many handicapped people use the football field when the playgrounds will help the handicapped kids be able to play with friends too.

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nsuzita 6 years, 10 months ago

Let's all remember that the 1/2 cent sales tax benefits our kids and is like an impact fee paid by tourists. By putting up with the tourism, we're reaping benefits that go directly to our kids... We are silly to take this benefit away! I'll be voting YES on renewing the 1/2 cent sales tax!!!

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Michael Loomis 6 years, 10 months ago

Just a few facts to clarify the discussion: The Fund Board has always supported the elementary spanish program with some degree of funding, and it has never seen a request for any funding for kindergarten. The all day Kindergarten program is still being discussed by the School Board. All funding requests are presented to one of 3 Commissions first, and if approved at that level, it will come before the Fund Board. The Board itself does not initiate any of the funding proposals.

There are two members of the School Board on the Fund Board, reduced from 4 as of a few years ago. A majority of the voluteer Board has less than 3 years experience in that position. The School Board sets the District Budget and who/what gets paid with which funds, and it would be their authority to decide who and what would get cut if the 1/2 cent sales tax goes away.

We are ranked 4th in the state, all of our schools are rated Excellent or High. The Education Fund has played a major role, and I will vote "Yes" for its renewal.

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MtnWarlock 6 years, 10 months ago

portoletomayo, No, not an administrator as you so accuse me. You would be surprised to really know who I am. I don't think you would be shooting your mouth from the safety of your computer, if you had that knowledge! I tell it as it is. I have been involved with a lot of volunteer work in the district! Have you? I just do not have putrid hate as you do for our schools and kids. I got mad and I got involved. You're just another non-caring Steamboat wannabe mouth! Go figure! You sound more like a former discruntled teacher I once knew! That teacher was not very good for our kids! Thats ok, everyone here shares their feelings as well as their opinions. Understandable.

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wz4now 6 years, 10 months ago

I'm a NO next time around, UNLESS there is some equitable sharing with South Routt and Hayden schools. These "non Steamboat" residents and parents spend plenty of $$$ in the Steamboat marketplace contibuting to the over $3 miliion expected to be collected in 08, yet receive nearly nothing from the tax collected. Oak Creek just got a new heating system replacing an antiquated coal system, yet Steamboat wants to spend over $1 million on security, using some of the sales tax funds! Give me a break!! We're not in LA or NY City.

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