Taxing times for Aspen School District
The Aspen Times
ASPEN SCHOOL DISTRICT BALLOT QUESTIONS
CITY OF ASPEN (2D):
SHALL THE CITY OF ASPEN’S EXISTING 0.3% SALES TAX FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES, WHICH IS SCHEDULED TO EXPIRE ON DECEMBER 31, 2016, BE EXTENDED THROUGH DECEMBER 31, 2021; AND SHALL THE REVENUES FROM SUCH SALES TAXES AND THE EARNINGS THEREON BE COLLECTED, RETAINED AND SPENT AS A VOTER-APPROVED REVENUE CHANGE WITHOUT LIMITATION UNDER ARTICLE X, SECTION 20 OF THE COLORADO CONSTITUTION (TABOR) OR ANY OTHER LAW?
TOWN OF SNOWMASS VILLAGE (2A):
SHALL TOWN OF SNOWMASS VILLAGE TAXES BE INCREASED $510,000.00 ANNUALLY, COMMENCING IN 2017 FOR COLLECTION IN 2018, AND BY $510,000.00 IN EACH OF THE CALENDAR YEARS 2018 THROUGH 2021, THE FINAL COLLECTION YEAR TO BE 2022, BY THE IMPOSITION OF A MILL LEVY SUFFICIENT TO GENERATE SUCH AMOUNT; SUCH TAXES TO BE USED FOR THE EDUCATIONAL PURPOSE OF PROVIDING SUPPORT TO THE ASPEN SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 1 (RE) AND TO REIMBURSE THE TOWN OF SNOWMASS VILLAGE FOR THE COSTS OF COLLECTION OF SUCH TAXES IMPOSED BY PITKIN COUNTY; AND PROVIDED FURTHER, THAT THE REVENUES DERIVED FROM SUCH MILL LEVY SHALL BE COLLECTED BY THE TOWN OF SNOWMASS VILLAGE AND DISBURSED THROUGH A TRUST OR OTHER NONPROFIT ENTITY CREATED BY INTERGOVERNMENTAL AGREEMENT BETWEEN THE TOWN OF SNOWMASS VILLAGE AND THE ASPEN SCHOOL DISTRICT NO.1 (RE) WITH SUCH TRUST OR OTHER NONPROFIT ENTITY MANAGED BY THE FOLLOWING NAMED INDIVIDUALS FOR THE TERM OF THE TAX: Brad Stevenson, Charla Belinski, Doug Throm, Dusty Diaz, Joe Farrell, Kristen Fitzgerald, Kristin Balko, Leah Moriarty, Timothy Johnson and Wolf Gensch
WITH SUCH INTERGOVERNMENTAL AGREEMENT PROVIDING FOR A METHOD OF REPLACEMENT OF ANY SUCH INDIVIDUALS; AND SHALL THE PROCEEDS OF SUCH TAXES AND INVESTMENT INCOME THEREON BE COLLECTED AND SPENT BY THE TOWN AS A VOTER-APPROVED REVENUE CHANGE IN CALENDAR YEARS 2017 THROUGH 2021 INCLUSIVE, WITHOUT REGARD TO ANY SPENDING, REVENUE-RAISING, OR OTHER LIMITATION CONTAINED WITHIN ARTICLE X, SECTION 20 OF THE COLORADO CONSTITUTION, OR ANY OTHER LAW?
Editor’s note: The original version of this article has been revised due to reporting error.
In recent years, Colorado’s economy has ranked among the strongest and fastest-growing in the nation, garnering the No. 5 spot on Forbes 2016 best economies in the U.S.
But when it comes to state education dollars, Colorado’s per pupil spending falls well short on the national scale, ranking No. 42 in the U.S., according to the Colorado School Finance Project.
The 21-year-old organization that tracks education and government spending reported that Colorado spends about $2,680 less annually than the U.S. average per pupil amount of $11,667.
On the November ballot, the Aspen School District will ask voters to renew a 0.3 percent sales tax aimed at helping the district overcome a $2.1 million deficit due to lack of state funding.
Aspen voters first approved the city sales tax increase, which will end Dec. 31 without an extension, in November 2012.
What’s changed since then is what school district officials once viewed as a “temporary fix” has now become part of a long-term solution, said Susan Marolt, president of the school district’s Board of Education.
“I think when we see Colorado leading the states and its bounce from the recession back in 2008, one would like to believe that means that the community is getting healthy and it is going to trickle down into state agencies and into schools that are receiving state dollars,” said Aspen School District Superintendent John Maloy on Tuesday. “And it just simply has not occurred.”
With this realization along with an increasing gap in state dollars, in 2015, the Board of Education and school district Chief Financial Officer Kate Fuentes developed a three-part plan to acquire funds locally.
The first part of the school board’s financial model was the mill-levy override, which voters approved in the November 2015 election.
The mill levy, which costs property owners an additional $3 per $100,000 of assessed value, brings in about $990,000 to the school district annually, Marolt said.
Parts two and three of the puzzle are renewing the city of Aspen sales tax and, for the first time, asking voters in Snowmass Village to support a property tax that would provide additional funds to the school district.
The school district is looking to Snowmass for support this time around for several reasons.
For one, even with the extra dollars generated from the mill levy override and the sales tax renewal, should voters approve it, the Aspen School District would still face a financial shortfall of about $500,000, Marolt said.
Furthermore, approximately 20 percent of students in the Aspen School District reside in Snowmass Village, said Marolt, while nodding to the fairness of asking the town to also contribute to the district.
Some members of the Aspen City Council have expressed a similar sentiment in an effort to ensure that Snowmass also will help financially support the school district.
City Councilman Adam Frisch, who has two children in the school district, didn’t tiptoe around the subject during a conversation with an Aspen Times reporter Tuesday.
“I’ll be incredibly disappointed with the Snowmass community if they can’t offer to cover their share of students,” Frisch said.
The councilman said he believes that voting in support of both school taxes is “a no-brainer” for everyone in the community, not only for those who have children in the district.
“The amount of people moving to Snowmass with kids has a tremendous amount to do with the school district,” said Frisch, stressing the importance of Snowmass leaders and elected officials rallying in support of the proposed property tax.
Despite Snowmass Village Councilwoman Alyssa Shenk’s unwavering support of the proposed school tax in Snowmass — along with her second title as president of the Aspen Elementary Parent Teacher Organization — she seemed more forgiving of Snowmass residents who feel some resistance to voting “yes” on another tax increase.
This election, Snowmass residents face two property taxes on the ballot, Shenk explained, one for the Aspen School District and one for the Snowmass Wildcat Fire Protection District.
Additionally, a tax on the Snowmass Water and Sanitation District passed in May.
“That, to me, is the difficult part — is that you have all of these essential community services that are all seeking funding at the same time,” Shenk said
Had Snowmass voters rejected the water and sanitation district tax, a fee would have been added to residences’ water bills, she said.
“It’s unfortunate,” said Shenk, who also has two children in the school district. “I don’t know what’s going to happen with the school district tax. … I can understand how some people feel like right now they don’t want to add onto their taxes.”
Compounding the dilemma is that Snowmass Village’s combined sales tax, at 10.4 percent, is one of the highest rates in Colorado.
This is why the school district is not asking voters in Snowmass to vote for a sales tax like it is in Aspen, Marolt said.
The proposed property tax would cost homeowners in Snowmass Village $40 for every $500,000 in property value.
This rate is expected to generate the additional $500,000 the Aspen School District needs in order to close the funding gap left from the state’s negative factor, Marolt said.
The state of Colorado has not met its funding obligation to Colorado school districts, including the Aspen School District, since 2009, as a result of the economic recession and its devastating effects nationwide, Fuentes said.
Consequently, the state introduced what’s called a “negative factor” to determine how it would allocate education dollars to Colorado schools on a per pupil basis.
The negative factor, Fuentes explained, is the percentage difference between what the state should be funding its K-12 schools versus the reduced amount that it actually is.
In the Aspen School District, this amount translates to an annual shortfall of about $2 million, Fuentes said, noting that the deficit will continue to grow, especially without the community’s support.
“The nationwide economic recession has been the trigger point for really having to think how we have to refund our schools,” Fuentes said. “This negative factor is not a temporary measure. It’s a permanent part of our school finance formula, and so we have to figure out how to deal with that loss of revenue that we should have, really, on a permanent basis.”
Altogether, the state of Colorado owes $831 million to its K-12 public schools.
While Colorado’s economy has progressed since the recession, strict state legislation such as the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights and the Gallagher Amendment pose strict limitations on governmental revenue and growth.
Both taxes in Aspen and Snowmass Village are proposed at five years and their funds would help the schools maintain its programs, retain staff, ensure small class sizes and altogether continue to offer the quality of education that the community has come to expect of the Aspen School District.
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The field for three open seats on Aspen City Council in this spring’s election is set at 10 people, most of who are newcomers to Aspen’s political scene. Eight are going for the two council seats and two candidates are vying for mayor.