Steamboat school board plans to vote on bond issue, tax increase at the bell | SteamboatToday.com

Steamboat school board plans to vote on bond issue, tax increase at the bell

Replacing the all-weather field and running track at Steamboat Springs High School are among the numerous maintenance projects the school board intends to ask voters to approve funding in November with $12.9 million in bonded indebtedness.

The Steamboat Springs Board of Education moved closer Aug. 7 to formally placing a pair of revenue questions on the Nov. 7 ballot. But board members will wait until the last possible day to approve the ballot language.

The deadline for sending the ballot language to Routt County Clerk Kim Bonner is Aug. 29, and school board members agreed this week to push their next school board meeting from Aug. 21 to Aug. 28.

The purpose of the delay is to get the most updated estimate of the district's property valuation from Routt County for tax purposes, giving district administrators more up-to-date information on where to set the mill levy in order to raise the targeted funding.

"We're using an estimated valuation," District Finance Director Mark Rydberg told the board. "Moving the next meeting back would give (Routt County) Assessor (Gary Peterson) time to give us a better estimate."

The twin revenue questions are designed to help the school district catch up on deferred maintenance including replacement of 20-year-old roofs on five district buildings, including three schools, and refurbishing the outdoor athletic facilities at Gardner Field adjacent to the high school.

The second goal is to provide a permanent revenue source dedicated to facilities maintenance, which is intended to help the district avoid falling behind on upkeep again.

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The first portion of the ballot question would ask taxpayers within the school district boundary to give it permission to take on $12.9 million in bonded indebtedness, which is estimated to be sufficient to repair and upgrade existing problems. The goal is to retire the debt within seven years to keep the interest costs down.

The second question would allow the district to increase the taxes the school district collects by $1 million annually to stay ahead of maintenance.

Rydberg told school board members that the amount of annual revenues the bond produces won't be known with certainty until the bonds are sold, probably sometime in December, if the voters approve the debt.

But two things are certain — the total cost to the school district of repaying the bond issue has a hard ceiling, and there is also a firm limit on how much the district can collect in a given year under the Taxpayers Bill of Rights (TABOR).

"On the debt portion, the repayment on the $12.9 million with interest is not to be more than $17 million and in any given year, we won't collect any more than $2.3 million," Rydberg told the board. "These are are TABOR numbers — a promise to the voters, We can't go over those numbers."

He explained the district will re-certify the mills of property tax needed to pay back the debt annually, and the $2.3 million threshold prevents counties from over-reaching. Although the assessor adjusts the valuation of the district bi-annually, new construction can modestly increase the valuation on an annual basis, and the district's process will take that into account.

It's also the case that the district could find it necessary to extend the repayment period beyond seve years, to avoid taking in more than $2.3 in a given year.

Board member Margaret Huron told Rydberg she was concerned about language in the ballot questions that specifies the funds could be used for "capital construction, new construction and the technology needs of the district.

"We run the risk of having some questions as to why those (uses) were included," Huron said. "It says 'ongoing maintenance' but goes way beyond that."

Rydberg said the language Huron called out was unavoidable, as it's required by state law to be included.

"This (underscores) that the communication piece will be essential," school board member Michelle Dover concluded.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1.

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