Sale tax demands rise
School districts request funds from Steamboat's half-cent tax
Steamboat Springs — Administrators in South Routt and Hayden have a wish list of items they would address if they received a portion of the Steamboat Springs half-cent sales tax for education.
“Huge capital improvements, professional development, expanded intervention programs – we could keep going down the line,” South Routt Superintendent Kelly Reed said.
“We have two labs with hand-me-down computers” from Colorado Mountain College, Hayden Superintendent Mike Luppes said. “We appreciate the upgrade from CMC, but our upgrade is behind. Technology is a luxury, but our kids can’t compete without that luxury.”
Currently, the Steamboat Springs School District is the sole benefactor of the tax, which has been administered through the Education Fund Board since the tax’s inception in 1993.
South Routt and Hayden do benefit from grant writer Lane Malone, who is employed by Steamboat and paid for with half-cent sales tax dollars. South Routt and Hayden schools work closely with Malone because those Routt County districts are more cash-strapped than Steamboat and qualify for more grant money.
But both Reed and Luppes said they could do more for their districts, particularly their staff, if they didn’t have to pay for such items as technology upgrades and capital improvements.
“We could funnel more into teacher salaries,” Reed said. “Every year, we face an issue about what we need to raise for salaries.”
In Hayden, there are teachers serving dual roles for budget reasons. For example, the elementary music teacher also teaches physical education. Luppes said the district would like to change that set-up.
On Tuesday, Reed addressed Routt County Commissioners about his desire to see South Routt included in Fund Board discussions in the years ahead.
“This is all done with a spirit of collaboration,” Reed said.
Luppes and Hayden School Board President Brian Hoza were in attendance Tuesday, as were Steamboat Springs Superintendent Donna Howell and Steamboat Springs School Board President Denise Connelly.
“Budgets are obviously tight for everyone,” Luppes said. “If there is an opportunity, Hayden would love to have extra money.”
The survey says:
The Routt County Commissioners have no authority on the city’s sales tax. The Steamboat Springs City Council decides whether the half-cent sales tax language appears on the ballot, and only voters within Steamboat Springs city limits will decide whether to renew it or not.
But the Fund Board has heard South Routt and Hayden ask to be included in half-cent sales tax discussions before, which is why board members are planning to administer a professionally crafted and conducted survey – likely next month – to ask voters what they think about the Steamboat community sharing money with the county.
“It’s kind of been a hot-button issue for those people in those school districts,” said Michael Loomis, a Fund Board member and one of the people in charge of putting together the survey. “There will be some question about (including South Routt and Hayden in the Fund Board). I don’t know how it will be phrased.”
Loomis added that the Fund Board has other questions it wants to ask about how the half-cent sales tax is spent and what priorities the community has for the future.
Hill and Associates, which has administered surveys for the Steamboat Springs School District in the past, is the firm the Fund Board is using.
“They do a good job getting a cross section,” Loomis said. “They aren’t just calling people with kids in the district.”
Putting money in the pot
One of the primary reasons South Routt and Hayden believe they have a legitimate reason to ask for half-cent sales tax money is because residents in South Routt and Hayden shop and eat in Steamboat.
Reed estimated 60 percent of South Routt residents shop, work and recreate in Steamboat, therefore, contributing to the half-cent sales tax.
But no one disputes the majority of the half-cent sales tax money is generated through tourism. Between 60 to 70 percent of the $2.7 million projected to be taken in for the 2007-08 school year likely will come from the wallets of tourists because of seasonal expenses such as lodging and equipment rentals that most locals do not pay for.
“South Routt is requesting, as a matter of discussion, for the Fund Board to listen to our request for a portion (of the half-cent sales tax) not to exceed a proportional share based on pupil populations,” Reed told commissioners. “The sharing would help solidify the community rather than create an impression of the ‘haves and have-nots.'”
“Fifty thousand would be as big to our district as $500,000 to your district,” Hoza told Howell and Connelly.
If Steamboat Springs voters don’t renew the half-cent sales tax or some form of a sales tax dedicated for education by 2009, all Routt County districts will be “have-nots.”
Since December 1993, the Fund Board has taken in an estimated $23.8 million and gifted more than $20 million of that. The Fund Board currently has $2.1 million in its reserves, accountant Paul Strong said.
That money has helped fund small class size, purchase land for future district growth, buy computers and boost educational programs, among other things.
Hayden and South Routt will continue to lobby for inclusion in Fund Board discussion. In the interim, Fund Board voting members, who are community volunteers, will continue to prioritize Steamboat and its district needs. On Wednesday, the Fund Board will determine its budget for next year, and the three commissions that prioritize funding – the capital, educational excellence and technology commissions – will be requesting $3.7 million, an all-time high.
Howell, who sits on the Fund Board but does not vote, doesn’t mince words about the possibility of Steamboat losing a source of funding unique to the district.
“If (the renewal attempt) were unsuccessful, and it goes away, it will be devastating,” Howell said. “The variety of things it funds are necessary, not nice.”
– To reach Melinda Mawdsley, call 871-4208 or e-mail email@example.com
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