Tax hike proposed for ‘overdue’ changes to downvalley schools
Downvalley voters will be asked Nov. 2 to increase their property taxes to pay for $86 million in improvements to schools in Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs that are, in some cases, crumbling and undersized.The Roaring Fork RE-1 School District also hopes to get approval in the election to raise an additional $1.8 million in operating revenues to increase the pay of all staff and teachers by an average of 7 percent and hire enough teachers to keep class sizes small in grades kindergarten through third.The two questions will be separate on the ballot. One will seek approval to issue bonds, and raise the property tax to pay off those bonds, for new buildings and improved facilities.A second question will seek a mill levy override that allows the district to keep more revenues than allowed under the state’s TABOR law without a vote of the people. The school district wants the $1.8 million for its operating budget.This election will be the first time in 11 years that the school district has sought a property tax increase for capital improvements.But school officials claimed improvements and basic maintenance needs are long overdue. The district conducted a thorough, two-year study of its needs and came up with a wish list of $122 million in projects. School officials weren’t sure that amount would fly with voters.”One hundred twenty-two million dollars is a pretty big pill to swallow,” acknowledged Bob Johnson, a Basalt-area parent of two elementary school students. He is on a citizens’ committee seeking approval of the ballot questions.The wish list was pared down to the most “critical and urgent” projects. They will cost an estimated $86 million. The school district wants to issue bonds to fund the projects and raise property taxes to pay them off.The added expense would be about $5 a month for each $100,000 of home value. The average house in the district is $400,000 so the new property tax would add about $20 a month, according to campaign literature.Proponents of the tax noted that’s about the same price as that of a family meal at McDonald’s.If the $86 million bond issuance is approved, schools in Glenwood Springs would receive $38.2 million in improvements. Another $30.7 million in improvements would be made in Carbondale and $14.6 million in Basalt. The remaining $2.9 million would be used on various facilities throughout the district.The bulk of the funds in Basalt, $9.2 million, would go to expand the elementary school from 39,000 to 78,000 square feet. The student capacity would increase from 505 to 542.The upper elementary school building would be demolished, as would the older part of the lower elementary school building and possibly the red brick building. It’s possible the red brick school would be preserved for community uses, Johnson said.Basalt High School, which was built six years ago, will be expanded by 13,500 square feet, boosting its capacity from 403 to 555 students. The expansion would accommodate five general classrooms.The school district has also pledged to finally contribute money to the Fields of Dreams citizens’ effort to add athletic facilities to the high school. The school was constructed without ball fields because the district didn’t have enough money. Basalt residents raised money and harnessed in-kind work to add soccer fields, baseball and softball fields and the football field.The proposed work at the high school would cost $3.34 million.Another $1.8 million would be spent at Basalt Middle School, mostly on infrastructure and utility improvements and upgrades.The work in Glenwood will feature replacing the high school, which was built in 1952. In Carbondale, the school district wants to build a new high school and move the middle school to the existing high school.Johnson said he doesn’t believe Basalt’s schools are getting a bad deal even though several more millions of dollars will be spent in the other towns. The town’s facilities are in better shape so the need to spend funds on facilities there isn’t as great, he noted.Basalt’s biggest advantage was that the school district used revenues from its last bond issue in 1993 to build Basalt High. Now it’s time to make spending on facilities equitable throughout the district, Johnson said.More information about the two ballot questions can be found at rfkids.org.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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