Aspen school tax plan would mean funds for Re-1 district | AspenTimes.com

Aspen school tax plan would mean funds for Re-1 district

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – A proposed Pitkin County sales tax to fund Aspen schools could send money the Roaring Fork School District’s way, as well.

Representatives of the Aspen Education Foundation, the fundraising arm of the Aspen School District, have devised a plan to share the proceeds of a countywide tax between both districts. They will meet with county commissioners Tuesday to discuss an envisioned 0.25 percent sales tax to help the Aspen district maintain programs and staff in the face of projected budget deficits in the coming years. The foundation hopes to see a tax question put to voters in November.

The county, however, encompasses more than the Aspen School District. Part of the Roaring Fork School District, or Re-1, lies within it, as well. Re-1 includes schools in Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs.

Sales tax collections from businesses located in both the county and Re-1 come from Redstone, part of Basalt and Holland Hills, according to Tom Oken, county treasurer. In addition, all residents of the county pay sales tax on utilities, including phone service, cable and the like, he said.

The Aspen Education Foundation has come up with a plan to address sales tax revenue that comes from outside the Aspen School District’s boundaries.

The tax would raise an estimated $1.75 million annually, based on countywide tax collections over the past two years, according to foundation President Robin Hamill.

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“What we would do is take a pro-rata share and make grants to the Roaring Fork School District,” he said. About 20 percent of the revenues would go to Re-1, he said.

Hamill anticipates the creation of a separate entity with its own board to make grants with Re-1’s share of the revenues, much as the Aspen Education Foundation awards grants to fund Aspen school needs.

The foundation initially approached the Aspen City Council about a city sales tax, but council members suggested that a countywide tax be considered because more than half of the district’s students live outside the city limits. That would require a county ballot measure.

Oken said he researched whether the county could establish a special taxing district so a sales tax for the Aspen district would be collected only within the district’s boundaries, leaving the Re-1 portion of the county unaffected. That authority doesn’t exist within state law, he said.

The sharing of tax revenues between the two school districts might satisfy the equitability issue for commissioners, but there remain questions about instituting a county sales tax to benefit, in essence, another taxing jurisdiction.

“Once you scratch the surface, it’s really just funneling the money to another taxing entity,” said County Manager Jon Peacock.

The overall impact to consumers would vary in different parts of the county. Currently, for example, the sales tax collected within Aspen is 9 percent, with 2.1 percent going to the city, 3.6 percent to the county, 0.4 percent to the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority and 2.9 percent to the state of Colorado.

Consumers pay a total sales tax of 10.4 percent in Snowmass Village. In unincorporated Pitkin County, which includes the commercial enclave of the Aspen Business Center, total sales tax amounts to 6.9 percent.

The county has not, as yet, reached out to Snowmass Village, for example, to find out how the resort feels about a boost in its existing sales tax, Peacock said.

The foundation has, however, surveyed residents to assess their support for the additional tax.

Poll results indicate 59.3 percent of respondents within Aspen would support a 0.35 percent sales tax increase on Aspen sales to help the public school system. At the county level, 57.8 percent of 380 respondents indicated they would support a 0.25 percent sales tax increase to assist the district.

If the tax is proposed to voters and passes, the revenues would help the district “achieve its goals of maintaining existing programming, retaining and attracting quality teachers and staff, and staying competitive nationally in such areas as technology, facilities and college counseling,” according to foundation officials.

Expiration of the initial tax after four years is part of the proposal, Hamill said.

According to the Aspen School District finance office, projected budget deficits from now until 2016 range from $660,000 to $980,000 annually, depending on the year.

The county commissioners are scheduled to hear a presentation on the sales tax idea at 10 a.m. Tuesday. The discussion will take place in the commissioners’ meeting room in the Plaza One building.

janet@aspentimes.com