First-grader Lili Hutchinson works in the computer lab at Soda Creek Elementary School on Tuesday afternoon. The half-cent sales tax has been used to fund technology throughout the Steamboat Springs School District.

Photo by John F. Russell

First-grader Lili Hutchinson works in the computer lab at Soda Creek Elementary School on Tuesday afternoon. The half-cent sales tax has been used to fund technology throughout the Steamboat Springs School District.

Half-cent sales tax renewal wins in landslide

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Steamboat Springs voters on Tuesday approved the renewal of the city's half-cent sales tax for education by the largest margin in the tax's 15-year history, with more than 75 percent of voters supporting Referendum 2A.

A total of 4,775 votes were cast in favor of the renewal, with 1,459 votes against, translating to 76.6 percent support for the tax that raises about $3 million a year for local education-related needs.

The referendum authorized the renewal of the half-cent sales tax through 2019. The money raised by the tax is administered by the Education Fund Board. Beginning in 2010, some of the funds can be shared with the Hayden and South Routt school districts after Referendum 2B also was approved by voters Tuesday.

Steamboat Springs School Board President Robin Crossan said the high level of support shows the value of education in Steamboat.

"The fact that we can hold on to this at this phenomenal percentage just tells everybody in this community how important education is for this community and how much value people place on a good education for their kids," said Crossan, who also serves on the Fund Board. "We hoped we would win: but to get that kind of result is absolutely amazing."

Kristi Brown, who helped organize the Half-Cents Makes Sense advocacy group to support the renewal of the tax, and who also serves on the Fund Board, said she initially was concerned that current economic trends would turn voters away from the tax.

"With the economy the way it is, I'm very pleasantly surprised at the overwhelming support," she said.

The sales tax has been in place since 1993, when it was approved by 57 percent of voters. It has been renewed twice, by 60 percent in 1996 and 56 percent in 1999.

The current tax expires at the end of 2009. Tuesday's vote extends the tax until Dec. 31, 2019.

Revenues from the half-cent sales tax have been used for a variety of purposes in the Steamboat Springs School District, including to decrease class sizes, pay salaries of positions including the district's grant writer and technology staff, make technology improvements and fund construction projects such as the new wing at the Steamboat Springs Middle School.

Tax revenues also have been used to fund one-time projects such as the universal playgrounds at Strawberry Park and Soda Creek elementary schools, as well as the artificial turf surface for Gardner Field at Steamboat Springs High School.

According to Fund Board estimates, up to 70 percent of the tax comes from tourists. The tax raised $3.2 million during the 2007-08 school year and is expected to generate $2.9 million this school year. The tax equates to 5 cents on a $10 purchase.

The School Board and the Steamboat Springs City Council supported the renewal of the tax.

- To reach Zach Fridell, call 871-4208

or e-mail zfridell@steamboatpilot.com

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