Steamboat school board votes to place 3 issues on November ballot, including $79.5M bond issue
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The Steamboat Springs School Board voted unanimously to place three separate issues on the Nov. 5 ballot.
The first asks voters to approve a $1.2 million property tax increase for “providing wage and benefit increases to attract and retain quality teachers and all staff.”
If passed, the taxes would be first collected in 2020, “and in each year thereafter and increased for inflation.”
An emotional Jessica Reagon, president of the Steamboat Springs Education Association, thanked the board members for their support and listening to the personal testimonials given by teachers struggling to make ends meet.
Reagon had also pushed for the question to be separate from the next two ballot measures, both of which relate to the funding of capital improvements at existing schools and construction of a new facility.
The second ballot question will ask voters to fund the operating costs for the proposed new school, a pre-K through eighth-grade school to be located in the Steamboat II neighborhood.
It reads, “shall taxes be increased not more than $2,800,000 not earlier than collection year 2022, and in each year thereafter for general fund purposes, including but not limited to: providing operational support for new pre-K-8 school facility and operational costs at other district facilities.”
While the second and third ballot questions are intrinsically connected, law requires they be separate. Question 2 would only take effect if voters pass question 3, according to the ballot language.
The third question is the big one, asking voters to approve a $79.5 million bond to cover the costs of upgrades deemed “priority projects” at existing schools and construction of a new school.
According to the ballot language, the district’s debt shall “be increased $79.5 million, with a repayment cost not to exceed $137 million and shall district taxes be increased no more than $8.3 million annually for district capital purposes, including: construction and equipping a new pre-K-8 school on district-owned property on the west side of town; adding additions to, renovating, and/or improving existing facilities to complete priority projects such as safety and security improvements to Soda Creek Elementary, Strawberry Park Elementary, North Routt Community Charter, Steamboat Springs Middle School and Steamboat Springs High School, Yampa Valley High School and other spaces such as the Human Services Center.”
There was only one public comment from a resident expressing concern that voters might be confused over the language, particularly the “$8.3 million.” Finance Director Mark Rydberg explained that it is “boiler plate Tabor language” requiring what amounts the bond will not exceed.
The debate over building a school in West Steamboat versus the property in the Whistler neighborhood was a contentious one, with the voices expressing opposition to Whistler outweighing any opposition from Steamboat II neighbors.
At Monday’s meeting, Meeks reported closing on the Barber property Aug. 16. The $1,342,000 deal for 35.91 acres took 13 months to complete with a “lot of complications,” he said. The acquisition doubles the district’s neighboring Steamboat II property, the proposed location for the new school.
All board members said they were excited about presenting the bond to voters in November.
Board President Joey Andrew noted the $79.5 million amount is a significant reduction from costs totaling more than $200 million the board was looking at earlier in the process. Passing the bond would mean the first new school site since 1981, he said.
“It’s an opportunity for Steamboat to reinvest in itself,” Andrews said.
Board Secretary Michelle Dover noted the investment Hayden is making in a new school, with the help of a grant, and the growth she sees happening in Steamboat on a daily basis.
“I think the community is ready for this,” she said.
Board member Kelly Latterman called the bond a “practical plan to address current overcrowding,” as well as a plan that looks much further into the future.
“I hope we support our students and make this happen for them,” she said.
“We really need these things and waiting doesn’t make sense,” said Board Treasurer Katy Lee.
She also expressed excitement about the possibility of the new school having a focus, like STEM, fine arts or foreign language.
Board Vice President Margaret Huron talked about how strong the sense of community is in Steamboat.
The bond “addresses a lot of our needs and supports the excellent education that people expect,” she added.
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