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Snowmass wants more info on school money question

Jill Beathard
The Aspen Times

The Snowmass Village Town Council wasn’t ready Monday to commit to a direction on a question of whether — and how — it was willing to provide town funds to the Aspen School District to curb a projected budget shortfall.

The district projects it will experience a deficit of $1.2 million in the 2017-18 school year, which will grow and deplete the district’s fund balance by the 2020-21 school year. That’s even after the passage of a mill-levy override this fall, so the district is seeking additional funding from Snowmass Village as well as potentially asking Aspen voters to renew a 0.3 percent sales tax to support the schools.

Monday’s meeting was a work session, so the council wasn’t set to take action on the question anyway. But some council members weren’t ready to move forward on a policy direction without more information from the schools and other special districts that might be asking voters for property tax increases this year. Those include the Snowmass Water and Sanitation District, which is debating between a rate increase or a ballot measure to address upcoming expenditures, and the Snowmass Wildcat Fire Protection District, which is weighing how to fund the construction of a new station.

Council members saw a property tax increase as the best solution for the schools, knowing that voters would be unlikely to swallow a sales tax hike. At 10.4 percent, Snowmass Village’s combined sales tax is one of the highest in Colorado (Winter Park voters just approved an increase in November that bumped their combined rate to 10.9 percent).

The alternative that won some traction at Monday’s meeting was asking voters to approve the repurposing of a mill levy currently being collected to pay off the debt on the Droste property, the final piece of Sky Mountain Park that was purchased in 2010. That mill was similarly born from the continuation of a tax that supported public transportation, and now it is set to expire in 2017, Town Manager Clint Kinney said.

“This looks like a pretty good option,” Councilman Tom Goode said.

“I think it’s a great option,” Mayor Markey Butler said. “The question is, what else is coming?”

Butler said she also wanted more information about the school budget numbers presented Monday. Councilman Bob Sirkus requested a breakdown of the expenditures, including salaries and benefits, which comprise 82 percent of the district’s budget.

Butler also wanted to know how the district was calculating projected revenue.

“Property value in Snowmass, as well as Aspen, is improving significantly,” Butler said. “Is this number … really tracking with what’s occurring, or is it the super-conservative projection?”

Town staff members presented an evaluation of how much property owners in Aspen, Snowmass Village and unincorporated parts of the district are contributing. Divided by the number of students each sends to the schools, Snowmass Village is contributing more than Aspen; but divided by population, Aspen’s contribution is greater.

Kinney noted that there is an implication in the discussion that each municipality should be contributing equally, and how that is determined is up to the elected officials.

“That’s the tough question before you guys right now. The tougher political question for you guys is, at some point it’s going to hit red, so how do we address that in a way that you think is appropriate?” Kinney said, adding that Snowmass could meet with Aspen officials on the issue.

Councilwoman Alyssa Shenk, who said she supports some kind of help for the schools, pointed out during the presentation that 228 students live outside of the district while 300 reside in Snowmass Village.

“That’s not that different,” Shenk said. “If you’re telling me 150 of that is kids of staff or teachers, OK. But if the case is that it’s really out-of-district kids, that seems like that number should be curbed … if there’s no money from the state coming with them.”

Snowmass Village resident Dusty Diaz came forward in support of the funding request, saying that state budget cuts have put school districts in a tough place. Diaz said “there’s a reason” for the many accolades Aspen School District has received over the years, including last month when Business Insider ranked it first in Colorado and 24th in the nation in a list of U.S. schools.

“You should know that there is a maybe quiet, but strong, conviction in the community to support education,” said Diaz, who also helped campaign for the passage of Ballot Question 3A in the November election.

jill@snowmasssun.com


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