Our View: City should share school tax
June 8, 2008
Steamboat Springs — It would be difficult to overstate the impact Steamboat Springs’ half-cent sales tax for education has had on the school district in the 15 years since voters first approved it. From major capital projects to technology in the classroom to an increased number of teachers for the purpose of reducing class sizes, the sales tax undoubtedly has improved the quality of education for thousands of local students.
The tax is scheduled to expire in December 2009, unless voters renew it at the polls this fall or next. That process took a small step forward Wednesday night when the Education Fund Board – the volunteer group that administers revenues from the tax – unanimously agreed to request that the Steamboat Springs City Council put a tax renewal question on this November’s ballot.
We hope and assume the City Council will allow voters the opportunity to renew the tax. The more difficult issue for the council will be determining whether and how to ask voters to share half-cent sales tax revenues with neighboring school districts in South Routt and Hayden.
Our support for sharing those revenues is no secret; we’ve advocated for it many times on this page of the newspaper. The Hayden and South Routt school districts have struggled financially in recent years as declining student enrollment eats into their annual revenues as determined by the state’s School Finance Formula. Passing an education sales tax of their own isn’t possible; both Hayden and Oak Creek wage the maximum sales tax rate allowable under state law for statutory towns. Steamboat, as a home-rule charter, isn’t subject to the same limitations.
More important, our community extends beyond the city limits of Steamboat Springs. Hayden and South Routt residents are part of the work force that drives our resort economy, and they spend portions of their paychecks shopping and dining in Steamboat year-round.
Fund Board President Tom Ptach puts the issue in a clearer perspective:
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“The community is bigger than just the city limits of Steamboat Springs,” Ptach said. “Our community is Routt County as well. The quality of education across Routt County does have a direct benefit for the people who live within the city limits of Steamboat Springs.”
There’s little doubt even a small portion of the annual half-cent sales tax revenue – which now pushes $3 million – can go a long way in South Routt and Hayden schools while having a very small impact on what additional programs can be funded in Steamboat.
Of course, there’s a risk in asking Steamboat voters to approve a tax that would be shared with Hayden and South Routt schools – namely that it might not pass and thus take those dollars away from Steamboat schools, too.
Perhaps the best way to approach the ballot issue is to ask voters two questions: A basic half-cent sales tax for education renewal question, and a follow-up question that asks whether voters support sharing at least a portion of those revenues with other Routt County school districts.
A committee of Fund Board members will meet Tuesday with the City Council to discuss the ballot issue. We hope council members not only embrace giving voters the opportunity to extend a worthwhile tax, but also a chance to allow those tax dollars to support education efforts countywide.