Steamboat officials critical of anti-tax ballot measures
They say initiatives would force further cuts and result in fewer services
Steamboat Springs — Routt County government and Steamboat Springs school officials are critical of three ballot measures they say would affect revenues, require additional budget cuts and reduce services.
Colorado voters in November will consider Proposition 101 and Amendments 60 and 61, which are citizen-led initiatives aimed at decreasing taxes and reducing government spending.
The Steamboat Springs School District hosted two community budget meetings Monday to discuss how the measures would reduce district revenue. The Routt County Board of Commissioners heard a presentation about the ballot measures Tuesday.
School district officials say Proposition 101, which would reduce vehicle fees and taxes, would cost the school system $1.23 million in revenues throughout a four-year period. Amendment 60, which would repeal all voter-approved property tax increases above limits set by the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, would result in the loss next year of mill levy overrides totaling $1.5 million. Amendment 60 also would require school districts to cut their mill levies in half by 2020 with the expectation that the state would cover the difference.
Based on preliminary estimates from The Bell Policy Center, of Denver, reducing property tax rates would cost the state $1 billion, in addition to the estimated loss of $1.7 million from Proposition 101.
Dale Mellor, the school district’s finance director, said with the state already cutting to balance this year’s budget, he doesn’t know where the additional money would come from.
Superintendent Shalee Cunningham said if the measures passed, “education finance in Colorado goes down the tubes.”
Routt County Finance Director Dan Strnad told commissioners Tuesday that the county would lose about $2 million with full implementation of Proposition 101. He said Amendment 60 could result in $1.67 to $3.9 million in lost revenue from voter-approved mill-levy overrides that provides funding for conservation, services for residents with disabilities, and museums and historic preservation.
Supporters of the measures have said they would force the government to operate more efficiently and cut spending.
“It’s our general belief that the state of Colorado has enough money to spend,” Marty Neilson, president of the Colorado Union of Taxpayers, told The Associated Press last week. “They can spend more wisely, or even cut their spending.”
But local officials express concern about the reach of the ballot measures. For example, Routt County Manager Tom Sullivan told commissioners Tuesday that Amendment 61, which would require local governments to get voter approval to borrow and repay the debt in 10 years, would prohibit the county from repairing Routt County Road 14. He also said the county simply couldn’t afford to repay an $18 million bond in 10 years.
Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said it’s important for the community to understand that the county would be able to provide fewer county services if voters approved the measures.
Commissioner Doug Monger said the approval of the measures would be a financial windfall for taxpayers.
“But I’m not sure you’d want to be here because there won’t be anything left,” he said.
Cunningham said Tuesday that most of the district’s efforts to educate the public about the ballot measures would happen when the next school year begins in August. But, she said, the measures likely would be part of a legislative update scheduled for the May 24 School Board meeting.
Parent Mary Darcy, who has three children in the district, attended the community budget workshop Monday night. She said if more cuts were required — next year’s budget has been trimmed about $1.9 million with the expectation for further cuts in upcoming years — the community needs to start coming up with creative solutions to raise money for the schools.
“If we keep cutting things out of the school budget at the rate we’re going, and especially if these (ballot measures) pass, I’m afraid we will destroy what’s so great about our schools,” Darcy said.
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