I’m sure the representatives from the Gunnison RE1J school district, the town of Mt. Crested Butte and the Rural Transportation Authority knew they were in for uphill battles to get taxpayers to sign on to three measures that will increase or maintain local tax levels.
The questions came on the heels of a large property assessment increase after the real estate market went wild in 2004 and values skyrocketed. With that added value, many homeowners and commercial businesses were in sticker shock over how much property taxes they will pay in 2008.
The road has only gotten steeper as we get closer to the election and risky credit has wreaked havoc on Wall Street and closer to home. For the first time in years, American families are looking at a situation where it’s tougher to borrow money. In reaction, spending habits are being curbed as we hold our collective breath on what will happen with our nation’s economy.
In this murky light, Gunnison County voters must decide whether to allow their representatives to take out loans on their behalf and to continue to levy taxes to pay for services.
Ballot Measure 3A—Gunnison RE1J School District bond issue
If approved, Ballot Measure 3A would allow $55 million in loans to pay for much-needed improvements at the district’s schools. To repay for the bonds, residential and commercial property taxes would increase. The bond will be paid off at $4.9 million annually over the next 25 years, at a total cost to taxpayers of more than $110 million. Approximately $20 million would go to the overcrowded Crested Butte Community School, to pay for new classrooms, library, gym, and more athletic facilities. The majority of the money in Gunnison would pay for sorely needed upgrades at the Gunnison High School.
What’s important to remember in this ballot measure is the Gunnison School District did not get into this mess by wasting its funds. The district has known for years that it needed to improve their facilities but did not have the means to do so.
Due to decisions made by Colorado voters through amendments like the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, school districts have been forced to do more with less money.
The situation became so dire that several years ago the district no longer had enough cash on hand to operate and had to dip into its savings account, violating state standards. Local voters agreed to pass a mil levy override in 2004 to alleviate the strain on the district—but those funds didn’t address capital needs at the crumbling schools.
Now, voters must step up to the financial plate again—even in this time of economic tumult—in order to make sure that students have a safe, warm, up-to-date home to study.
Vote Yes on 3A.
Ballot Issue 5A—RTA tax reauthorization
Also on the ballot, local voters are being asked to renew funding for the Gunnison Valley Rural Transportation Authority, which funds both the bus system between Mt. Crested Butte and Gunnison and airline guarantees.
Voters first approved the sales tax increase in 2002 with a sunset provision, which means it will discontinue in 2010 if not re-authorized. The tax is 0.6 percent in Crested Butte, Mt. Crested Butte, and most of the Valley, with .3 percent in Gunnison. The tax is not charged on electricity, natural gas or energy products, or groceries.
Since its existence, the RTA has more than proved its worth. It continues to help secure reliable air transportation to Gunnison County in an age when many larger cities are seeing their air flights cut altogether. This year, the RTA, along with Crested Butte Mountain Resort, has upped the number of seats flying into the Gunnison-Crested Butte Regional Airport by 10,000. Each of those seats represents the possibility of new dollars flowing into the local economy.
Couple that with a new bus service that has transported close to 80,000 passengers since last year, and it’s obvious that Gunnison County voters would be remiss to let this valuable organization go by the wayside.
Vote Yes on 5A.
Mt. Crested Butte tax and bond questions—2A and 2B
Mt. Crested Butte will face two ballot questions this year and I’ve been reluctant to endorse them. I was concerned that Mt. Crested Butte was asking for everything it’s ever wanted at once and that it might overburden their taxpayers.
However, ballot proponents have convinced me that these are the right moves for Mt. Crested Butte and it’s necessary that they move forward now.
Ballot measure 2A will ask voters to approve three separate actions. The first is a continuance of an additional .5 percent sales tax approved in 1998 that will otherwise sunset. Second, the town is also asking voters to “de-Bruce” the existing 5.31 mil levy for capital expenditures to allow it to keep all the taxes it currently collects, rather than returning some of that money to voters. The third portion asks voters to increase the mil levy by 3 points, which would be directed into the town’s general fund. Altogether, 2A will represent an increase of 5.57 mils, and will cost residential properties an additional $44 per $100,000 of assessed valuation. The additional money will be spent on increased operating expenses for the town, and $1 million is set aside over the course of five years to cover operating losses at the proposed Aquatic Recreation Center.
2B is asking voters to allow the town to withdraw $8,610,000 in municipal bonds. If 2B passes, Mt. Crested Butte would use existing resources and those approved with 2A to pay back the bonds. The money would be spent on a new maintenance facility, extending the existing recreation path from Marcellina Lane to Prospect Drive, build a pedestrian bridge over Gothic Road, upgrade the town’s roads, improve parking at town hall and resurface the tennis courts at Ted Scheske Park.
These ballot measures are the next step on a carefully laid out path that the Mt. Crested Butte Town Council believes will move the town forward. If recent Town Council elections are a gauge, along with town-wide surveys, it appears that most citizens are on board with the vision.
In that spirit, vote Yes on 2A and 2B in Mt. Crested Butte.