Eagle County school officials worried about ballot measure
Vail, CO Colorado
EAGLE COUNTY – Eagle County school officials voiced concerns Wednesday night about a proposed statewide ballot measure called amendment 61.
Phil Onofrio, the district’s chief financial officer, said the amendment would prevent the school district from borrowing money from the state to staunch the district’s annual cash flow problem.
Because the school years and property tax revenue payments don’t line up, Onofrio said the district runs out of property tax revenue each year and taps the state’s no interest loan program. Through that program, the district borrows money to temporarily pay for teacher salaries, benefits and other general fund expenses. The district borrowed just over $19 million from the state last fall, paying the money back when property tax revenues started to arrive in March, Onofrio said.
“It’s kind of like your mortgage is due on the first and you get your paycheck on the fifth,” Onofrio said.
Set to appear on the state’s November ballot, Amendment 61 would ban any kind of debt by the state of Colorado, including the no interest loan program. Voters would have to approve all school district debt in a November election. Perhaps most troubling to Onofrio, the amendment would require local governments to cut their tax rates equal to the annual debt payments as debts are repaid.
State Rep. Christine Scanlan, D-Eagle County, said amendment 61 would be “devastating” to school districts.
“It could cut school district funding by 50 percent,” she said. “Most school districts across the state are putting up public statements against it for that reason.”
Onofrio said the Eagle County School District would be especially hard hit if amendment 61 passes, partly because the district receives a comparably small amount of money in equalization from the state. The district receives $200,000 per month, or $2.5 million per year, to help the district reach a state-set ceiling of annual property and car tax revenues.
School board members said they plan to further study how they will respond to the threat of amendment 61.
Onofrio outlined a few ideas for measures the school district could consider putting on the local ballot in November, which would only go into effect if amendment 61 passes. One possible question would ask voters to allow the district to borrow a one-time sum to help cover general expenses, while an alternative would set a maximum amount the district could borrow each year. Another question could ask for a tax increase to offset the tax cuts the district would have to make under amendment 61.
School Board member Brian Nolan said the district needs to consider all possible responses to the amendment 61, not just ballot measures.
School Board member Jeanne McQueeney said she’s heard amendment 61 is polling favorably among prospective voters.
“We don’t have the luxury of sitting back without a plan B and assuming this will fail,” she said.
Staff Writer Sarah Mausolf can be reached at 970-748-2928 or firstname.lastname@example.org.