Voters to decide on tax hike for Aspen schools | AspenTimes.com

Voters to decide on tax hike for Aspen schools

ASPEN – The Aspen School District will ask voters to approve a $1.2 million annual property tax increase on the November ballot.

“We need to maximize our mill levy,” said Aspen School Board President Charla Belinski at Tuesday night’s school board meeting. “And I think what I’m hearing, and what all the information is telling us, is that we have the green light to do that.”

District officials are asking for the tax increase to compensate for state-mandated budget cuts, as well as to offset anticipated reductions in property tax revenue due to falling property values. Without the additional tax revenue, the district is projecting a funding shortfall of approximately $1.6 million for the 2011-12 school year.

Monday’s unanimous decision came after a brief discussion between the board and Terry Casey, managing director of RBC Capital Markets, which is working with the school district on the ballot initiative. If the measure is approved, property owners would pay an additional $14 per year for every $500,000 of market value

According to Casey, Boulder-based Harstad Strategic Research, Inc., polled 302 Aspen voters from Aug. 8-12 to gauge their feelings about the school district and the potential ballot question, which will be formalized next week after ballot language is approved. The results were overwhelmingly positive for the school district.

“The Aspen public schools win very impressive ratings from voters and even more so from ASD parents. As pollsters, we have never seen better scores for a school district,” the survey said.

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According to the survey, 78 percent of voters polled graded the Aspen School District with an A or B rating. Of parents, “a striking” 95 percent graded their child’s school as an A or B.

Further, more than three-fifths of voters said they would vote yes on a “prospective $1.2 million annual mill levy override ballot measure”; one-third said they would vote no. “This nearly 2-to-1 initial majority support amounts to a ‘green light’ from voters,” according to the report.

“When you have these kinds of scores, it usually translates into a pretty positive result at the polls,” Casey said.

School board members took this information as the go-ahead for putting a question on the November ballot. And while board members contemplated waiting a year to put the measure before voters, given the current economic climate and several other tax measures expected to be on the November ballot, they decided the time now was right.

“With all the uncertainty out there, we have to go for it,” said board member Elizabeth Parker, adding that the district’s financial advisory board met earlier Tuesday and unanimously approved putting the measure on the ballot. According to Parker, the advisory board made their decision after discussing the ramifications of three state tax measures – Amendments 60 and 61 and Proposition 101; if they are all approved, the school district could lose some $9 million in funding. “It was the sense of the [advisory board] that, in some ways, it would be fiscally irresponsible not to get the community’s input on this.”

The board was warned, however, that the hard work in getting the tax increase passed has just begun.

“You need to articulate what has happened with the school budget and what is likely to happen,” Casey advised. “This will be the chief challenge of the election campaign.”

jmcgovern@aspentimes.com

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