Snowmass talks options for supporting schools
The Aspen Times
Snowmass Village Sales tax
Collections from the town’s 10.4 percent sales tax are currently allocated as follows.
State tax: 2.9 percent
Pitkin County tax: 3.6 percent
Roaring Fork Transportation Authority tax: 0.4 percent
Snowmass Village tax: 3.5 percent
Total: 10.4 percent
An additional 2.4 percent lodging tax is charged to guests of village hotels and condos.
Source: Town of Snowmass Village
Snowmass Village wants to provide financial support for the Aspen School District, and while elected officials do not support hiking the town’s sales tax, several different alternatives for that funding came out of a Town Council work session Monday.
The elected officials were clear that they would not — nor voters, more than likely — support a request by the district to increase the village’s 10.4 percent sales tax, one of the highest in the state. However, they were more open to reallocating some of that tax in the future, increasing property taxes within the town or dedicating currently unallocated funds to help the schools stave off a forecasted budget shortfall in the coming years.
Voters in the city of Aspen approved a 0.3 percent sales tax in support of the district in 2012, and the district asked the Snowmass Village Town Council in April to consider a similar ballot question. Aspen’s tax is set to expire in 2016, and the school officials suggested that voters there would be more supportive of continuing it if they felt that Snowmass Village, where about 17.6 percent of students live, also contributed.
Snowmass Village’s Financial Advisory Board is not in favor of hiking its sales tax, but members of the volunteer board suggested the school district could ask voters to collect 25 percent of its funding from property taxes, which it is legally allowed to do but currently does not. The district plans to increase its unrestricted mill levy collections in 2017.
“I’m not really sure why our tourists should be paying for our school system as opposed to our property owners who live here,” said Councilman Chris Jacobson, who added that second-home owners also benefit from a good school district.
“It’s good to have good schools, it’s good to have good community services,” he said. “I think the people that benefit the most are the people that live here full or part time as opposed to the people that come here for a vacation.”
Jacobson also opposed reallocating a portion of the marketing and/or group sales taxes in Snowmass Village to the schools. Those taxes support Snowmass Tourism, and given the success of that department in the past two years, Jacobson said the move would “feel totally irresponsible to all the work that’s gone on.”
Mayor Markey Butler agreed, saying that would be “a slap in the face,” but added that reallocating funds could be considered in the future with more insight into how tourism success translates into revenues in the long run.
However, increasing mill-levy collections throughout the district wouldn’t resolve the perceived inequity for Aspen residents, said Kate Fuentes, the district’s chief financial officer.
“That still doesn’t address concerns from the city of Aspen with regard to Snowmass participation,” Fuentes said. “If it is delayed, … it is important to have a question of some kind in 2016 in tandem with the city of Aspen.”
Town Manager Clint Kinney suggested that the town could ask voters to increase local property taxes and then designate those collections for the Aspen Education Foundation, a nonprofit whose mission is to raise funds for Aspen schools, although the town would need to research the legality of that option, he said.
Property owners in Colorado don’t pay as high in taxes as other parts of the country because of the way school financing is structured here, Fuentes said. Councilman Bill Madsen said he thinks residents would be less opposed to a hike in property taxes than they would be to increasing or reallocating sales tax collections.
“I see that as a much easier sell,” Madsen said.
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The Aspen School District’s budget for the 2021-22 fiscal year is shaping up stronger than the pandemic-bogged finances from last year, according to district Chief Financial Officer Linda Warhoe.“We’re getting our head above water and we’re coming up on shore,” Warhoe said in an interview last week.