Our View: Yes on 3A; no on 3B | AspenTimes.com

Our View: Yes on 3A; no on 3B

Aspen, CO Colorado

The need for additional staff housing, improved technology and new buses is the upshot of Referendums 3A and 3B, which will be determined by voters in the Aspen School District in the Nov. 4 election.

Once again, voters are being asked to open up their pocketbooks during volatile economic times. We encourage taxpayers to vote “yes” on the first referendum, but we have serious reservations about the second.

If Referendum 3A passes, property taxes would be raised by $1.5 million annually for three years, in order for the district to bring in $4.5 million to address its technology and transportation needs.

The three-year mill levy is borne out of an amendment to the state constitution that allows Colorado school districts to bypass TABOR tax-increase restrictions in order to meet technology and transportation costs.

In human terms, that means the owner of a $3.3 million house ” the median house price in the district ” would see his or her tax bill increase by $154, and stay there for three years.

Superintendent Diana Sirko says the money generated from the mill levy would help fund the purchase of new buses to replace the 15 buses it bought between 1985-1998. Those buses are wearing down and need to be replaced, she contends.

As it stands, the school has an annual budget of $650,000 for transportation. Of the $4.5 million the mill levy would generate, $1.9 million would be earmarked for transportation. Sirko envisions using approximately $333,000 annually for the next six years to cover more than half of the district’s transportation budget.

The school also is pressed to keep up with technology, and that’s where the remaining $2.6 million would come in, replacing laptop and classroom computers. Technology is a vital ” and expensive ” tool of modern education. Without it, our students’ education is compromised.

Vote yes on Referendum 3A.

Referendum 3B boils down to providing housing for staff members of the Aspen School District. Over the years the school district has lost valuable employees simply because of Aspen’s exorbitant cost of living .

If passed, Referendum 3B would deliver an estimated $12 million to the school district through the sale of bonds, which would be repaid up to a cost of $21.6 million. The cost to the owner of a $3.3 million house would be another $42 a year.

As it stands, the school district has only 20 affordable housing units for its staff of 200. Housing needs clearly are not being met. Referendum 3B would help shore up that deficit by adding another 22 units to the inventory, and we thoroughly support the cause.

However, we wish we knew exactly how the district planned to spend the money. Officials have expressed intentions and ideas, but voters have not seen a plan, and that’s potentially dangerous.

Back in the 1990s, the landscape of the midvalley was changed forever when the Roaring Fork School District decided to build a new Basalt High School on the south side of Highway 82. Because school districts aren’t governed by local land-use codes, the district’s intentions overrode any objections from local government or community members. The new school then triggered a new wave of sprawl in a former agricultural area.

The Aspen School District enjoys the same kind of developmental freedom that the Roaring Fork district did, and we’re uncertain voters will want to relinquish their say in where and how teacher housing is created. Some voters may put affordable housing before land use, and may wish to trust the district on this one; having seen laudable housing efforts pitted against other community values, however, we’re inclined to ask the district for a detailed plan.

Again, we completely support the cause of housing for teachers. But show voters a plan if you’re going to ask for money.

Vote no on Referendum 3B.

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