Steamboat Springs Steamboat Springs voters should renew a half-cent sales tax that generates as much as $3 million a year to improve education in our public schools. Similarly, voters should say "yes" to a measure that would allow some of the proceeds of the tax to be shared with schools in Hayden and South Routt.
Referendum 2A, which appears at the very bottom of this fall's lengthy ballot, isn't a new tax. Rather, it would renew a half-cent city of Steamboat Springs sales tax that voters previously approved in 1993, 1996 and 1999. The tax is set to expire Dec. 31, 2009. If 2A is approved, the tax will sunset Dec. 31, 2019.
Half-cent sales tax revenues are earmarked for education, and since its inception, the tax has raised about $30 million, primarily for programs, projects and salaries in the Steamboat Springs School District. It's important to reflect on the history of the tax and why it has received the support of the community in three previous elections.
The Steamboat Springs Education Fund was established in 1993 per an intergovernmental agreement between the city and the School District. Its creation largely was in response to significant budget cuts experienced by the School District as a result of changes in the way the state funded its public schools. As class sizes boomed and the district's technology lagged behind the curve, school officials and supporters pushed for a sales tax to help raise funds for the public schools. With the city's blessing, the sales tax question went to voters in November 1993. The initial half-cent sales tax campaigns focused on the need to decrease class sizes and purchase technology.
Voters supported the measure, and the Education Fund Board was born. The Fund Board is an 11-member volunteer group that administers revenues from the sales tax. Those revenues now exceed $3 million a year. The Fund Board has three commissions - Technology, Capital and Educational Excellence - that listen to funding requests from community members and the School District. If approved by the Fund Board, the requests are presented to the Steamboat Springs School Board in the form of a gift. The School Board then votes to accept the gift.
That process has worked well during the past 15 years. The tax revenues help pay the salaries of 16 district teachers, which keep class sizes low throughout the district. The tax also has helped pay for hundreds of other programs and projects, from an expansion at Steamboat Springs Middle School to a Spanish program for elementary students. More examples of successful Fund Board-funded programs can be found at www.steamboateducationfund.org.
The success of the half-cent sales tax and the boost it has provided to education in Steamboat's public schools is undeniable. What's also undeniable is the need for some of that wealth to be shared with the neighboring South Routt and Hayden school districts, which have struggled in recent years to keep course offerings and extracurricular activities afloat while student enrollment numbers and operating revenue decline.
Referendum 2B asks Steamboat Springs voters whether they're willing to share an undetermined amount of money - to be decided at the sole discretion of the Fund Board - with those districts. We can't say "yes" loud enough.
There's no doubt Routt County residents who live outside Steamboat Springs city limits contribute to the half-cent sales tax through shopping and working in Steamboat. Perhaps more significant, it's important that we recognize and think about Routt County and its municipalities as a single community, dependent upon one another for work force, housing, recreation opportunities and countless other factors.
As part of that larger community, we urge Steamboat Springs residents to support a referendum that would allow some of the half-cent sales tax proceeds to be shared with our other school districts, whose students need our assistance as much as Steamboat's public schools do. The referendum doesn't guarantee any funds will be spent outside Steamboat, but, if approved, it will give Fund Board members a clear direction that it's OK to share some of the revenues for appropriate expenditures in South Routt and Hayden.
On a crowded ballot this year, few items are as important as Referendums 2A and 2B. Vote "yes" on both of them.