Editorial Board, September 2008
- Suzanne Schlicht, general manager
- Brent Boyer, editor
- Mike Lawrence, city editor
- Tom Ross, reporter
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The results from Tuesday's election leave no doubt that Steamboat Springs voters are ready and willing to share revenues from the city's half-cent sales tax for education with neighboring school districts. That sharing should begin immediately.
The tax, which is applied only in Steamboat Springs city limits, passed by an overwhelming majority - 75 percent of voters approved renewal of the tax for another 10 years, and 72 percent approved sharing some of the proceeds with the Hayden and South Routt school districts.
The affirmative votes far surpassed the majority percentage regarding any previous half-cent sales tax question. In 1993, 57 percent of voters supported the tax. The percentage was 60 in 1996 and 56 in 1999. This was the first year voters have been asked if they'd be willing to share a tax that provides about $3 million a year to Steamboat Springs School District programs. That nearly three out of four voters said "yes" to both questions, despite the current economy, is telling.
It's logical to assume at least a portion of the voters supported referendums 2A and 2B simply because the issue of sharing was put on the table. That message should not be lost on the Education Fund Board as it decides how and when to allow South Routt and Hayden to lobby for a slice of the pie.
Members of the Fund Board met last week - the day after the election - to begin that discussion. They grappled with the legalities of when the sharing could begin, a discussion tied to the language of the intergovernmental agreement that allows the city-waged tax to be spent on educational programs in public schools. However, there appears to be nothing in the existing intergovernmental agreement that specifies tax revenues be spent only on the Steamboat Springs School District.
The other issue is the timing of the tax renewal. The existing half-cent sales tax for education doesn't expire until Dec. 31, 2009. The renewal passed by voters last week technically would begin Jan. 1, 2010. Some Fund Board members have suggested tax revenues not be shared with Hayden or South Routt until after the renewal kicks in. We strongly disagree.
Throughout the years, the most persistent argument against sharing revenues with our neighboring county school districts was that Steamboat voters never had expressed a desire to do that through the ballot box. That argument is no longer valid, and Referendum 2B did not say anything about waiting to share taxes until 2010 or later.
The Fund Board decision should be easy. The voters have spoken - in a majority not seen in any previous half-cent sales tax vote. They want to share some of the revenues with Hayden and South Routt. Those districts should be part of the 2009-10 school year budget process that begins in March. And if their funding requests are approved by the Fund Board, they should be gifted in a timely manner not tied to any calendar, but rather to the needs of the school district and the students who will benefit from the expenditures.
As we've said before, even small donations to our neighbors to the south and west can make a significant difference in the education they provide students. Now that the voters have spoken, why would we delay the opportunity to make a positive impact in the lives of those children?