Fund Board ballot issue advances

City Council approves first reading and two-question format

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— City officials gave initial approval Tuesday to a two-part ballot issue that would ask voters whether to renew the city's half-cent sales tax for education and, if so, whether to share its revenues with schools across Routt County.

The Steamboat Springs City Council unanimously approved the first reading of the Education Fund Board's proposed November ballot issue, which if passed by city voters would extend the citywide sales tax administered by the Fund Board through Dec. 31, 2019. The sales tax is scheduled to sunset Dec. 31, 2009. After first asking voters whether to extend the half-cent sales tax for a decade, yes or no, the ballot issue then asks voters whether sales tax revenues should be shared with the Hayden and South Routt school districts.

"If question No. 1 is approved by the voters, should the city authorize the Steamboat Springs Education Fund to share in its sole discretion some portion of the proceeds of the half-cent sales tax with the other school districts in Routt County in addition to the Steamboat Springs RE-2 district?" reads the issue's second question, as presented to the City Council.

Fund Board President Tom Ptach said Tuesday that should both questions be approved, the Fund Board would review requests from Hayden and South Routt schools on a case-by-case basis, and there would be no formula or cap determining how much money could be allocated to each school district.

The Fund Board will allocate more than $4.4 million to Steamboat Springs School District programs, salaries and capital projects for the 2008-09 school year. At Fund Board meetings earlier this year, representatives of Hayden and South Routt schools said a portion of those revenues - or even a seat at the table during allocation discussions - could go a long way in their districts.

Members of the volunteer Fund Board have expressed support for the idea.

"The idea is not to take away from the Steamboat Springs district, but we recognize, as growth occurs, that it might be a benefit to be able to contribute to the other districts," Ptach said.

Ptach added that the high quality of education in Steamboat Springs attracts new residents and as that number increases, it would benefit the entire county to be able to contribute money to elevating the quality of education in the other districts.

The Education Fund Board awarded $3.3 million in gifts in 2006-07. The 2008-09 allocations include $800,000 to fund salaries for 16 teachers in the district and foster small class sizes, almost $600,000 for technology initiatives, and $1.5 million for an expansion of Steamboat Springs Middle School.

Steamboat Springs voters approved the half-cent sales tax for education in 1993, 1996 and 1999.

City Council is scheduled to vote on the second, and potentially final, reading of the ballot issue's ordinance July 15.

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