Fund Board finds sharing sales tax difficult to do
Steamboat Springs — The Education Fund Board is learning to share – and finding it an arduous process.
After 15 years of keeping revenues from the city’s half-cent sales tax for education within city limits, members of the Steamboat Springs group are looking through bylaws and regulations in an effort to figure out how and when to grant the money to the South Routt and Hayden school districts.
Even after close examination, however, the results are murky and the rules will need to be rewritten to make distributing the funds equitable and legal.
After November’s passage of Referendum 2B, stipulating the money raised from Steamboat Springs’ half-cent sales tax be shared with the other Routt County school districts, the Fund Board has agreed to hear requests in its capital improvement, educational excellence and technology commissions. All requests to the full board must come first from one of the commissions.
That’s why representatives from all three school districts have presented applications to each of the three commissions this week, in preparation for next year’s budget cycle. The Steamboat Springs School District is requesting about $3.1 million, while each of the other two districts is requesting $150,000 to $200,000.
Fund Board members repeatedly have said the money should first go toward Steamboat Springs schools. In a presentation to the Steamboat Springs City Council before the issue went on the ballot, Fund Board President Tom Ptach said the Steamboat Springs School District “would not be adversely affected by sharing with the other districts,” Ptach recounted Thursday.
That statement is a personal commitment, Ptach said, and is not binding to the board.
Ptach said he meant that the amount of money given to the Steamboat Springs School District in previous years would not decrease, and any money directed to the other schools would come from an increase in sales tax revenue.
“If it doesn’t grow, it doesn’t grow,” he said.
Even so, at the Fund Board meeting, Ptach urged the Steamboat Springs School District to attempt to find a grant to fund the resource officer at Steamboat Springs High School, in order to use the funds that would be allocated for that project in the other two districts.
The Steamboat Springs district also requested less money this year than in previous years because of a decrease in construction projects, leaving open the possibility that more money will be available for South Routt and Hayden.
Fund Board accountant Paul Strong said how and when the sales tax revenues can be disbursed is primarily governed by two documents: an intergovernmental agreement with the city and the Fund Board bylaws.
But those documents offer little guidance about how the Fund Board should disburse the money across Routt County, because they were written before sharing was an issue.
Strong says the bylaws and IGA must all be rewritten to account for the new arrangement, and he would like to have them completed before the Fund Board’s general meeting in January, although he said that is unlikely.
Until new laws are written, the board continues to operate under outdated procedures.
The 1997 IGA states that the funds “shall be used exclusively for educational purposes,” but does not list the types of uses that are considered acceptable.
The bylaws creating the three separate commissions, last amended in 2005, also vary greatly in the level of detail about how the money can be spent.
In the section creating the educational excellence commission, no district is addressed, while the capital commission is tasked with recommending expenditures “necessary for the educational needs of Steamboat Springs and the surrounding area,” without specifying further.
In the technology commission section, the wording is more specific, with money directed “to obtain personnel who will assist the Steamboat Springs School District RE-2.”
Ptach said the commissions will decide which applications to hear and bring before the full board for approval. Ptach said he was not familiar enough with the bylaws to comment about how they will affect the sharing process.
Jim Kurowski, chair of the Technology Commission, said his commission heard requests from Hayden and South Routt on Dec. 16, but recommendation decisions have not been made.
“I think they have substantial needs, and we have to see what we can do,” Kurowski said.
The requests in Hayden and South Routt were “mostly basic” computer replacements and upgrades, he said.
Kurowski said the current bylaws governing his commission “just don’t address (sharing) at all,” and the commission is figuring out how to handle the requests as they come.
“I think we all understand we have a primary relationship with the Steamboat Springs School District, but we also have a new relationship now that we’re beginning to develop with Hayden and Soroco, so it’s a matter of learning to walk before we run,” he said.
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