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Taxing decisions

Tamara Miller
Tamara Miller
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Better libraries, better schools and better services for kids and families could be all yours for about $235.49 a year.

That’s about how much the owner of a $500,000 home would have to pay if all three of the locally-sponsored tax increases – for schools, for libraries and for kids and families – pass on Nov. 7.

It doesn’t seem like that much on its own, but add it to everything else that will go up this year – gasoline, utilities, groceries – it seems a little steep.

Ignoring the arguments against higher taxes undermines the concerns of working families – the very people these taxes are supposed to help. Working families are used to make sacrifices, and they are used to having to make priorities. Having a gym membership, a new computer and a vacation are each equally beneficial and important to the health and wellness of families. But few families can afford to have them all at the same time.

So if you can afford to, pass all three of the tax initiatives. Each of them, on their own, will make our community better and have merit. But if you can’t, here’s how you should prioritize them.

1) Pass the school bond. Nothing on this ballot will have a greater impact on our community than the health of our public schools. That’s also why the price tag for this measure is the highest. The Eagle County School District wants voters to approve a $128 million bond – listed as Referendum 3B on the ballot – which will raise property taxes on a $500,000 home by about $123.34 per year. We can either fork over the dough now or we’ll have to fork it over later.

The biggest chunk of change, $64.6 million, will be used to replace Battle Mountain High School. Repairing Eagle Valley High School and other buildings around the district takes up another $16 million. Putting these tasks off will only make them more necessary and more expensive in the future.

There also is little doubt that a new elementary school will be needed in the future. Growth in Eagle and Gypsum is far from over and $22.1 million of the bond would be used for this purpose. It would behoove the district to take another look at school boundaries, and soon. It is foolish to have schools busting at the seams while others are below capacity. But even if the district boundaries are redrawn, Eagle County will need another elementary school.

Securing land for other schools now makes sense, and the bond allows the district to budget $7 million for this. Working families know better than anyone else that property in Eagle County isn’t going to get any cheaper. The district has also budgeted $11.67 million for a contingency fund, which shows the care and planning the district’s board has taken in asking for the bond.

The rest of the bond – $7 million – would be used for technology upgrades and other repairs. This is essential to keep our schools relevant in the technological age.

2) Pass the early childhood tax. It seems silly that when asked to spend millions on prison facilities, we rarely question the need. But when asked to spend far less to make sure all kids have a chance to be successful adults, some argue that it’s not the government’s job.

We can long for a utopia where parents only work as much as they want to, and all kids get the care, guidance and attention they need. Or we can take some of the millions we spend on prisons, special education and law enforcement and try to fill in the gaps.

The early childhood tax – listed as Referendum 1A on the ballot – aims to do this. If passed, the county will collect up to $3.6 million each year to be spent on expanding access to childcare, new parent programs or improving health care for low-income and uninsured families. The strength of the tax is that it allows an advisory board, appointed by the county commissioners, to use that money to meet ever-changing needs of the population. Best to spend it on programs, really. The money – which would raise taxes on a $500,000 home by up to $62.50 – isn’t enough to build new childcare centers.

3) Pass the library tax. There are two library district taxes, listed as Referendum 5A and 5B, respectively, on the ballot. One would raise the mill levy, the other would allow the district to collect up to $15 million to expand the Avon and Eagle libraries and possibly build a new library in Gypsum. If passed, it would raise taxes on a $500,000 home by $47.75. Libraries are a community asset and better access to the libraries is great. But this tax just isn’t as necessary as the other two.

E-mail comments about this column to tmiller@vailtrail.com.


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