Fund Board eyes ballot |

Fund Board eyes ballot

City Council must approve tax renewal question

Zach Fridell

— The Education Fund Board is ready to move forward with a November vote to extend Steamboat Springs’ half-cent sales tax for education. Now it’s up to the Steamboat Springs City Council to approve such a ballot measure.

Fund Board members unanimously approved a request Wednesday night to ask the City Council to call a vote on renewing the sales tax. Details of the plan will remain unsettled until a conference with the council.

At issue is a sharing agreement that would potentially allow other Routt County schools to draw upon the fund. Revenues from the sales tax typically go to the Steamboat Springs School District.

A committee from the Fund Board will go before the City Council on Tuesday to discuss the issue and potentially decide on wording for the ballot initiative.

The Fund Board is a volunteer group that administers the sales tax revenue, which now generates more than $3 million a year for local education programs. Steamboat voters first approved the tax in 1993, and this year the Fund Board will allocate more than $4.4 million to school district programs, salaries and capital projects. The tax is active until December 2009; the proposed renewal would extend it for 10 more years.

Questions raised during Wednesday’s Fund Board meeting included how money would be allocated between county school districts, whether early childhood or private schools could receive funding and whether other districts will be represented on the Fund Board.

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“I do think we need to maintain a primary relationship with the Steamboat school district,” Fund Board member Jim Kurowski said.

The Fund Board in March supported the notion of sharing revenue with neighboring school districts, but details remain unclear.

Although the Fund Board can request any initiative, the language of the bill eventually will be decided by the City Council.

Tom Ptach, Fund Board president, said he would prefer other schools be allowed to request funds without having a set budget for each district.

“I would like to see them at the table, but I don’t think we can fund anything today,” he said. “Over the 10 years, let’s work into (sharing the funds).”

School Board Vice President Denise Connelly echoed Ptach’s statement and said parents in Steamboat were asked to pay for all-day kindergarten this year, while other districts pay for all-day kindergarten through their budget.

Fund Board members also debated the possibility of allowing voters to decide whether the money is shared or kept within Steamboat by including that question on the ballot.

“Sharing money with our neighbors will be the biggest issue of this campaign, and I will not be comfortable with language that is vague,” Fund Board member Kristi Brown said.

Officials from the South Routt and Hayden school districts have lobbied off and on for years to receive some of the revenues from the sales tax. Advocates for sharing say South Routt and Hayden residents contribute significantly to Steamboat’s tax base and that their kids should be able to benefit from those dollars.

Previous Fund Boards have resisted sharing the sales tax revenues because that’s not what Steamboat voters were asked to approve in the 1993, 1996 and 1999 elections. The Fund Board has paid the salary of a grants writer who works for all three county school districts.