Steamboat Springs School Board certifies mill levy
New rate includes credit for Steamboat taxpayers
December 15, 2009
Steamboat Springs — The Steamboat Springs School Board certified a mill levy for tax collection next year that includes a property tax credit for taxpayers who live within the district's boundaries.
Board members unanimously approved Monday night an 11.555 mill rate for property tax collection in 2010 that will generate about $13 million in revenue for the district. A 4.104 mill credit was necessary to make up for the district over-collecting nearly $4.2 million in property taxes during the 2007-08 and 2008-09 school years.
The district owes that plus 10 percent, which is required by law, to Steamboat taxpayers. Taxpayers will pay fewer property taxes next year as a result.
One mill equals $1 per $1,000 of assessed property value. The mill levy credit amounts to $32.67 in reduced property taxes for every $100,000 in residential home value, and $119.02 for every $100,000 in nonresidential property value.
During his presentation to explain how the district over-collected property taxes, Steamboat Springs School District Finance Director Dale Mellor said that in 1997, voters approved a ballot measure to waive the revenue limits imposed by the Taxpayers Bill of Rights.
When he started working at the district a couple of years later, Mellor said it was his impression that the election waived all revenue limits, but it had actually waived everything except property taxes.
When reached by phone Monday afternoon, Vody Herrmann, assistant commissioner of public school finance for the Colorado Department of Education, said what voters had approved in Steamboat wasn't clear based on previous years' audits.
She said it wasn't until 2007, when a state Senate bill allowed districts to freeze mill levies, that the district collected more property taxes than it was allowed under TABOR.
In the 10 years before that, Herrmann said the district's property tax collections complied with TABOR.
"Unknowingly, we started collecting more in property taxes than we were allowed to collect," Mellor said.
He said the district didn't find out about the over-collections until March, when a Colorado Supreme Court decision upheld the legality of the mill levy freeze bill.
In October, the Education Department issued the district a check to make up for what the district won't receive next year because it will collect fewer property taxes from Steamboat taxpayers. Herrmann said had the district collected property taxes appropriately during that two-year period at a lower rate, the state would have backfilled its total program funding.
The district is, however, responsible for paying the 10 percent. The district will apply some state funding for categorical programs, such as the English Language Learner program, that it was allowed to keep this year and some new revenue generated this year. The district's share of responsibility is about $33,000.
School Board member Brian Kelly said he worried the district was "becoming more and more dependent on the state because of TABOR."
In other action:
■ The School Board unanimously accepted the report of financial statements for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2009, from auditor Bondi & Co., of Englewood. The action also authorized Superintendent Shalee Cunningham to implement the auditor's recommendations this year.
Some of the recommendations included implementing an information technology disaster recovery plan, updating the district's vendor policy and reviewing the district's annual leave and vacation policy, which doesn't limit how time employees can roll from one year to the next.
Auditor Jennifer Ulrich, who presented the audit Monday night to the board, said her firm didn't find any "material weaknesses" or "significant deficiencies" with the district's accounting practices.
Ulrich said Bondi & Co. offered a "clean" opinion of the audit.
"It's the best opinion you could get," she said.
■ Board members were given a budget update that included the $33,000 deficit resulting from the 10 percent the district owes to Steamboat taxpayers for over-collecting property taxes the past two years.
Mellor said the district could use a portion of a $461,000 general fund reserve that was revealed during the audit presentation.
The board is scheduled to adopt the revised budget at its next meeting Jan. 11. By law, it must be adopted before Jan. 31, 2010.
— To reach Jack Weinstein, call 871-4203 or e-mail email@example.com