School override proposals raise taxing questions | AspenTimes.com

School override proposals raise taxing questions

John Stroud
Post Independent
Aspen, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – The local school district mill levy override initiatives on the Nov. 1 ballot, while technically asking for a property tax increase, wouldn’t actually result in a larger tax bill compared to this year, proponents argue.

Because residential property valuations declined nearly 30 percent with the last re-valuation period, the overall 2011 tax bill (due in 2012) can be expected to go down as well.

That includes taxes paid for public schools, which make up a sizable portion of the overall property tax bill locally.

Backers of the different initiatives being put to voters in the Roaring Fork Re-1, Garfield Re-2 and Garfield District 16 say their districts are only asking for part of that amount back.

“Most residential taxpayers will still see a decline in their school tax bill, even with the passage of the mill levy,” according to information put out by the “Vote for Our Kids” campaign in support of Ballot Question 3E proposed by District Re-1.

For example, the owner of a residential property valued at $300,000 is projected to see a decrease of $250 in Re-1 school taxes compared to this year’s bill, according to the pro-3E camp.

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“The district is asking to keep less than half of that amount,” said campaign chairman Matt Hamilton, who is also running unopposed for a seat on the Re-1 school board.

Critics of the tax measures have countered that the expected decrease in the overall tax bill is welcome and deserved relief two years after property taxes went up amid the national economic recession.

Even though the area’s housing market started to decline significantly in the latter part of 2008, property taxes for the ensuing two years remained high based on 2008 property valuations. Those valuations declined significantly with the 2010 valuations, which will be reflected on the 2011 tax bills to be paid in 2012.

The amount being requested back by the school district to help make up for recent cuts in state funding is something that voters will have to weigh, Hamilton acknowledged.

Re-1’s ballot question 3E proposes a $4.8 million annual mill levy override, which would offset about $5.1 million in state per-pupil funding cuts over the last two years.

Reduced state funding has already resulted in significant staffing and programming cuts for Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt schools, as well as pay cuts and continued wage freezes for teachers, staff and administrators.

The override is intended to maintain current budget levels after those cuts were made. That will be especially important as additional cuts in state funding for 2012 are already projected for Re-1 and other school districts in Colorado, Hamilton said.

The increased mill levy for Re-1 would be equivalent to $36 for every $100,000 in assessed residential valuation, Hamilton said.

Commercial property is taxed at about three times the rate of residential property, so that number would increase three-fold for commercial property owners.

“Because commercial property values are not expected to decline as much as residential property values, most commercial property owners will not realize the same benefit from declining taxes,” the 3E campaign also acknowledges.

Likewise, ballot question 3C in the Garfield Re-2 school district (New Castle, Silt and Rifle) proposes a $3 million general fund mill levy override, also to make up for about the same amount in state budget cuts over the past three years.

District 16 is seeking a $4.8 million override, appearing on the ballot in the Parachute/Battlement Mesa area as Question 3D. If approved, it would be split between general fund needs ($1.2 million), funding for full-day kindergarten ($583,000) and building technology improvements ($3 million for three years, sun-setting after that time).

As in Re-1, the general fund override amounts in the other districts are primarily intended to maintain current budget levels.

“We’re not asking to increase anything,” Re-2 school board member and campaign supporter Chris Pearson said. “We’re just asking to keep what we already have in place, and we felt it was important for the community to have a say.”

The override proposal in Re-2 would cost taxpayers an additional $18 for every $100,000 in residential property value, and about $63 for every $100,000 in commercial property value, according to the “Friends of Re-2” campaign in support of 3D.

“We don’t feel like we’re asking for too much,” District 16 campaign chairman and school board member Sarah Del Orona said of her district’s proposal. “We only asked for what we think we need, and what it will be used for.

“It’s not a lot of money for our kids to reap a lot of benefits,” she said. “If it doesn’t pass, there are going to be consequences that we will have to deal with.”

The District 16 mill levy proposal is projected to cost taxpayers about $28 for every $100,000 of value, and, as in the other districts, about three times that amount for commercial property owners.

jstroud@postindependent.com