Snowmass to take school funding question to voters |

Snowmass to take school funding question to voters

Jill Beathard
The Aspen Times

The town of Snowmass Village will ask voters to decide whether the town should provide $500,000 annually through property taxes to help the Aspen School District address a funding deficit.

The district has been seeking Snowmass Village’s help since summer and made a formal request for the contribution in a council meeting Monday. Council members favored going to voters in November with a proposal for a property tax increase, the details of which still need to be worked out.

While they ultimately decided to leave it up to voters, council members had lots of questions for the school district about the financing structure that created the deficit, now projected to be $2.5 million in the 2017-18 school year. The amount of state funding a district receives varies depending on how much revenue that district is able to bring in locally, so total revenue does not increase in direct proportion to increasing property tax revenues, explained Kate Fuentes, the district’s chief financial officer.

The amount of funding per pupil also is not affected by whether that students lives in or out of district, Fuentes said. Every student regardless of their residency is allocated local and state funding, something the council wanted clarified the last time school officials came before them.

The deficit the school district is now projecting also accounts for the loss of a city of Aspen sales tax set to expire this year, although it also plans to ask Aspen voters to renew that tax this fall.

When asked why the district is not adjusting its budget for the revenue it has, Fuentes said that would significantly change the education the school district is now providing.

“Our hope is the community sees the value in providing the high-quality schools we’re providing today,” she said.

School board member Bob Glah added that the district wants the community to let it know whether that is still important. Aspen schools provide smaller class sizes, the Experiential Education program and other attributes that many districts don’t, he said, but if voters in Aspen and Snowmass turned down the tax questions, that would send a message.

Due to cost of living, it costs the district more to attract and retain teachers, he added.

“And yet per-pupil revenue is not to a significant amount much more than other school districts,” Fuentes said. “We are doing more with what we are getting.”

Town staff members calculated that 1 mill in property taxes in Snowmass Village would generate approximately $500,000 in revenue. They estimated Monday that 1 mill would mean $318.40 more annually in property taxes for a $4 million home.

Snowmass Villagers also are being asked in two weeks to approve a mill-levy increase for a new wastewater treatment plant, and the Snowmass Wildcat Fire Protection District is weighing how to fund a new fire station.

“I think it should be a voter decision,” Mayor Markey Butler said. “But I think it’s going to be a tough road, given the fact of these other taxes.”

But Town Council members favored that direction, even though Town Attorney John Dresser cautioned that additional property tax revenue might skew state funding calculations even more. Town staff members are going to work with the school district to review language of a potential ballot question, which the council has until July to approve.

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