Steamboat Springs School Board talks about tax increase
No action taken at Monday meeting; more discussion is scheduled for May
April 4, 2011
Steamboat Springs — The Steamboat Springs School Board briefly discussed Monday night whether to ask voters to approve a property tax increase in November.
Finance Director Dale Mellor presented a preliminary proposal that would generate an additional $900,000 annually for the district, which expects funding cuts at the state level in the coming years. He said a group of parents approached the district and expressed interest in fundraising annually for the district. Mellor said he thought that because a mill levy override provides an ongoing funding source, he would draft a preliminary proposal.
"We're not asking for a decision tonight," he told the School Board. "We're just looking for feedback and general feelings about a mill levy override."
Mellor said the district's bond counsel, RBC Capital Markets, has offered to do a survey at no cost to the district to gauge the interest of Steamboat residents in a property tax increase. He added that the bond counsel also recommended, should the district decide to proceed with a ballot question, asking voters to consider a mill levy override this year as opposed to 2012 because tax increases generally don't fare well in presidential election years.
School Board member Laura Anderson asked whether the district should be specific in the language of any potential ballot question. Mellor suggested it should because voters would ask how the money would be spent.
Anderson said she was encouraged that voters in the Hayden and South Routt school districts approved mill levy overrides last year.
Because the meeting was going long, the School Board decided to continue the discussion at its May 2 meeting.
After the meeting, School Board President Robin Crossan said she didn't have an opinion about whether to ask voters to approve a mill levy override. Crossan said she needed more information.
Gov. John Hickenlooper has proposed significant cuts to K-12 education funding, beginning next year. Future cuts also are expected.
During the discussion, Mellor presented how an override would impact Steamboat homeowners.
Mellor said based on $400,000 of residential property value, Steamboat homeowners will pay $500.97 in annual property taxes for the district's mill rate of 15.734 mills this year. Because the district expects next year's home appraisals to decline, Mellor estimated how much homeowners property taxes would cost for the school district's portion of the mill rate if voters approved an override, and if they didn't or it wasn't proposed.
An increase of 0.994 mills, to generate the $900,000, and a 20 percent decline in property values, would cost homeowners $426.10, Mellor said. He said 20 percent was just a number he picked and wasn't based on anything specific.
Mellor said they would pay $400.78 with no change in the mill rate if property values decline by the same percentage.
School Board member Brian Kelly asked how the district would be impacted if property values decline 20 percent. Mellor said the public school finance formula requires that lost revenue not from local property taxes be replaced by state aid.
Kelly expressed concern with the state's ability to do that, given its own economic issues.
"I understand the finance formula, but I'm asking what pot of money covers that if everything drops," he said.
Also at Monday's meeting, the School Board:
■ Approved, by a 3-2 vote, the district's prorated membership dues of $875 to the Colorado Rural Caucus, which lobbies for its member schools with the Colorado General Assembly. School Board members Denise Connelly and Anderson voted against the expenditure, which covers the district until August, citing financial concerns in a down economy.
■ Announced making Friday, Aug. 26 a half day because Lincoln Avenue will be closed for the Quiznos Pro Challenge stage race in Steamboat. Crossan said the street will be closed at 11 a.m., but the district would be able to reroute buses around the Lincoln Avenue closure to get students home after lunch, which they are required to provide.
■ Discussed the performance-based budgeting process, which requires all district program managers — building principals and department directors — to draft three versions of their 2011-12 budgets. They were asked to draft them at 90 percent of the 2010-11 budget, 96 percent and with level funding because the district is unsure what the state will cut next year. The district expects to cut as much as $1.6 million next year.
Mellor said the department directors have submitted their budgets, and the principals' budgets are due today. They will be presented at the next District Accountability Committee meeting and reviewed by Superintendent Shalee Cunningham before being considered by the School Board.
To reach Jack Weinstein, call 970-871-4203 or email jweinstein@SteamboatToday.com