Downvalley school supporterstry to sell property tax hike
Proponents of two ballot questions that would raise revenues for the downvalley school district are trying to show voters that the benefits of the investment far outweigh the effects on property tax bills.The Roaring Fork School District is seeking voter approval on two separate tax hikes.Question 3A would generate an additional $1.8 million annually for the school district. The extra revenue would be used exclusively on higher pay for teachers and other school district employees as well as maintain small class sizes in grades kindergarten through 12.Question 3B seeks permission to issue $86 million in bonds to build and refurbish schools in Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs. A property tax hike would pay off the bonds.The challenge for supporters of the questions is to show voters the value of the tax hikes, acknowledged Shannon Pelland, finance director for the school district. Making the challenge even tougher is the fact that about 70 percent of the households in the district don’t have children in school, she said.”That’s one of the toughest things about passing a bond issue,” Pelland said. “Any kind of tax increase is real tough.”She is using the property tax bill from 1995 and the potential bill for 2005 to make her case.A decade ago, the typical house in the downvalley school district was valued at $200,000. That house paid $1,408 in property taxes to the downvalley school district.That same house will be valued at around $400,000 in 2005, Pelland said. But even if the school district’s two property tax hikes are approved, the tax bill for the school district will be about $1,311 – or about $100 less than it was a decade earlier, she said.If questions 3A and 3B are approved, it would increase property taxes for the downvalley school district by $240 annually, or about $20 a month, for owners of a house valued at $400,000, according to campaign literature mailed by Citizens For Investing in Roaring Fork School District Kids.The reason the school district’s portion of the tax bill is shrinking is the assessed value of the district has skyrocketed recently due to new construction, Pelland explained.”People have the perception that their tax bill is going up” because their home value has increased so drastically, she said. In reality, tax bills are going down. Pelland challenged doubters to pull their tax bills over the last decade and check her claim.Proponents of the school ballot questions have tried from the start of the campaign to try to put their spin on the tax hike.A press release issued earlier this fall compared the extra monthly taxes to “the price of a family meal at McDonald’s.”Proponents say the $1.8 million in extra revenues sought in question 3A are needed to pay teachers a competitive wage.The $86 million bond issue is being sought for specific improvements to facilities that are spelled out in the ballot language. Glenwood Springs would receive $38.2 million in improvements, Carbondale would get $30.7 million and Basalt would receive $14.6 million.The big ticket changes would be an expansion and consolidation of Basalt Elementary School and an expansion of Basalt High School, a new high school in Glenwood and a new high school in Carbondale, where the existing high school would be converted into the middle school.Pelland said the school district contributes to a capital reserve fund each year, as required by state law. That fund was about $1.85 million in last year’s budget. That amount is needed for various repairs and maintenance required on the school buildings in Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs.The age and condition of many school facilities require more work than that fund can address.”Our needs are so great we just can’t keep up with that amount,” Pelland said.She added that it is rare that a school district in Colorado can build a new school or remodel a facility without seeking a bond issue and property tax hike, so what the Roaring Fork School District is attempting is nothing unusual.Despite the challenges of earning approval of a property tax hike, the school district has been successful in the past. A $37 million bond issue was approved by a healthy 57 to 43 percent margin in 1993.In addition, a property tax hike was approved in 1999 to increase pay for teachers and reduce class sizes for younger kids.Information about the ballot questions can be found at rfkids.org.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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