Officials: No new school taxes
June 1, 2010
GRANBY – Local policy-makers concerned about the school budget crisis resolved to hold off on any attempts to raise taxes for schools in Grand County, citing bad timing with anti-tax measures on the November ballot.
A 13-person roundtable of policy-makers and concerned citizens gathered at the Granby Town Hall last week to discuss the possibility of a countywide or towns-specific sales-tax question for the November ballot to support the school district, which faces at least $2 million in budget cuts during the next two years.
Other funding instruments discussed included a special-district tax that could boost school finances or the possibility of towns funneling general-fund money to schools through a neutral organization.
East Grand School District Superintendent Nancy Karas discussed another possibility: An increase in the district’s ability to collect property-tax funds on top of the district’s per-pupil calculation from the state.
Right now, the East Grand district collects about $2.1 million in overrides that were approved by voters in the 1990s when state legislation such as the TABOR Act worsened schools’ financial situations.
Per state law, the East Grand District has functioned with a 20 percent property-tax cap over and above what the state calculates the district can collect. District officials could ask voters for almost $500,000 more before the district bumps up against that ceiling.
In light of the state’s budget crisis, recent legislation has raised that buffer to 25 percent, causing East Grand School District officials to ponder whether the timing was right to ask voters if the district could increase its override to 25 percent. With more voter approvals, that could max out at an additional $492,000 to the district.
But East Grand Superintendent Nancy Karas and School Board President Tom Sifers told local policy-makers that the timing isn’t ideal, that putting a tax question on the ballot alongside three anti-tax measures made them nervous.
Amendments 60 and 61 and Proposition 101 have public officials worried, with stringent limits on tax revenue collections and the ability for governments to borrow. County and town officials are saying that if the measures are passed, citizens may experience drastic cuts in school finance and government services, such as road maintenance and improvements.
“If any one of those pass, we’re in trouble,” Karas said.
Karas leaned toward not putting the 25 percent override question on the ballot.
“I’m nervous about bogging down the ballot,” she said. “We don’t want to be the reason 60, 61 and 101 pass.”
Convinced by District officials that “holes are plugged” at East Grand schools – that “the ship is not sinking,” Karas said – local policy-makers opted to hold off contemplation of any sales tax or property tax solution.
Karas outlined that the district has a three- to five-year strategic development plan. In the last few months, the district has gained $300,000 in grants to help move that plan forward, she said.
“We will provide a solid education,” Karas said. “I really want you guys to know, that we are sound. We made good solid decisions that our children are not going to suffer from this round of cuts. We’re going to be fine. We have a good plan in place, and it’s funded, and we have a balanced budget. So as long as nothing takes our feet out from under us next year, we are going to be OK. And it will give us time to see what’s going to happen at the state.”
But if state education funding continues to deteriorate in the not-so-distant future, everyone agreed, alternative funding to the district may be needed.
– Tonya Bina can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.