Vail Daily column: School tax proposals
Residents in Eagle County were recently sent a letter, dated July 27, from Eagle County Schools concerning placing two property tax increases on the November ballot election. The introduction stated needs for additional money to support operations directly related to student learning and success and a bond for facility upgrades, all with a growing student population. In trying to “get my arms around” a plethora of information in the letter, I found it necessary to both expand and net out information, coming up with “just the facts” measurements and perspectives beyond what was in the letter.
The cost perspective
The school system has confirmed the two property taxes would increase the school portion of our tax bills by around 24.7 percent — noting it could be less, largely based on the final costs of issuing bonds. Further, the overall property tax bills would increase around 9 or more percent, depending on where you live.
The benefits perspective
1. Improving the student experience in terms curriculum, class size and space, available tools and technology.
2. Recruiting and retaining quality teachers — for some, the attractiveness of living in the mountains and Eagle County is not enough to overcome the pragmatics of higher salaries and lower living costs available elsewhere.
3. Facility maintenance and upgrades — including some items that have been “let go” due to previous budget cuts.
The common denominator enabler of the above is to increase funding via two property tax increases — once passed would be monitored by a watchdog citizen oversight committee or committees.
two tax increases
1. “$8 million mill levy override for critical operating needs”
• Mill levy is a term used by the county assessor that property owners may know about — but likely not renters. Simply, its a property tax increase — that may or may not be passed on to renters.
• The tax increase would be $22.80 per year per $100,000 of a residential property “actual value” (assessor talk of the bi-annual market value estimate). Further, commercial properties would pay three-plus times this amount.
• The property tax would raise over $56 million (assuming property inflation) over the seven years until expiring in 2023.
2. “$144 million bond addressing highest priority facility needs”
• Property tax increase of $17.28 per year per $100,000 of residential property value — again three-plus this for commercial properties.
• Implied annual tax collection of $6 million initially (up with property inflation) to pay bonds in 20 years — all per actual bond interest rates.
Effect of Raising Mill Levies
Property tax increases cannot be stated as a single percent increase of current total property tax bills for everybody; this is because each property is subject to diverse mill levy taxes on the sum of county, municipal and special taxing districts (recreation, fire, library, etc.).
For example, it’s about an 11 percent increase (if both proposals pass) for most Vail residential and commercial properties — picking Vail as I only have past records to do the calculations for where I live. It would be useful if the school district published examples from other areas of the county. One can compute your own percent total property tax increase using the statement for property taxes paid earlier this year, noting school mill levy goes up by 5.035 from 20.331.
State funding perspective
The letter sent to residents stated state funding was decreased by $40 million over five years. This averaged $8 million per year. The cuts were from a variety of factors (including the recession) associated with the state’s complex equalization formula. Note, the state now contributes just under half of what comes in from property taxes.
The proposed $8 million mill levy override operations tax per year restores the average $8 million per year lost during the recession — but targets the new dollars to newly defined strategic areas.
Summit County public schools have similar, two-prong property tax increases on their November ballot — one for ongoing operations and the other a $68.9 million bond. Since Summit’s student population is just under half of Eagle County’s, it’s proportional to Eagle Schools request for $144 million bond. (See their website, http://www.summit.k12.co.us.)
Property in Eagle County has a tax rate just over half of what the average property is taxed across the state — clearly good news. The reasons: lots of commercial property, high average home prices and a number of second-home households not needing schools.
I have tried to clarify and verify — tell me if the information is wrong. Only through broadly distributed, comprehensive information can voters come to an informed decision regarding the very important aspects regarding public schools and family budgets.
Colorado’s TABOR requires pro/con statements be sent to all registered voters for local ballot initiatives. For/against positions can be submitted by any organization or individual — ”outsiders” sometimes make more convincing “for” stories than the sponsoring organization!
For the two school ballot questions, these comments must arrive by Sept. 23 at the school’s designated election official, who forwards them to the county for summarizing into 500 words per for and against positions. Send your comments to Missy Gerard, Eagle County Schools, PO Box 740, Eagle, CO 81631 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Since 500 words is not much to make a case for or against these complex and important issues, submit your letters to the papers.
P.S. This document was reviewed with the school system before publication to ensure both accuracy and context of the information.
Paul Rondeau lives in Vail
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