Looking at a couple of tax issues— 3B for schools and a sales tax for parks

Let’s start with the premise that no one likes to have their taxes raised. If we have to choose to pay more to some government entity, then it better be for a really good reason. 3B is a good reason.
Good schools are one of the keystones of a good community. Taking care of children matters. There is a moral reason to provide for the children of a village. We have done that in this county and we should continue to do so this fall by biting the bullet and agreeing to properly fund the schools in Crested Butte and Gunnison.
The state has dramatically cut back its support for education. Colorado is near the bottom of the list of what the states pay out to provide K-12 school funding for the kids. Higher education is getting squeezed as well. At the October 10 Crested Butte News election forum, Yes for Sustaining Our Schools advocate Ian Billick rightly emphasized that this override “is about local control. It is a local fix for local schools.”
The proposal caps the revenue at $2.5 million annually at the most. If through some miracle, the state gets it act together and puts more money into education through the local school districts (not likely), this mill levy override can be reduced to reflect the infusion of cash. A local citizens’ advisory committee will be formed to watch over the dollars and advise the elected school board on how best to spend the money. It will stop the bleeding to the local classrooms.
While the Crested Butte school in particular has continued to be top-notch with dwindling resources, those days may disappearing. For years now, teachers, support staff and administrators have been cut because of the state reduction in funding. Those cuts directly impact how well our children do in school and, eventually, in life.
The biggest hit with such a tax will be to commercial business property and that is a legitimate concern in the valley seemingly always on the cusp but rarely over the line of economic prosperity. A $500,000 business property will get dinged another $784. Residential property takes a lesser hit. A $500,000 house will get popped for $215.
But good schools can actually attract people to a vibrant community and increase the value of property. Good schools can attract an intelligent base of residents. Good schools can keep the local kids engaged and out of trouble. Good schools are a benefit to the community as a whole, not just families with school-aged kids.
As Billick said at the election forum, “If we are going to support our kids, we should stand up and do this.”
We should stand up and do this. It is a good investment. Vote yes for 3B.

In Crested Butte there is another tax increase on the ballot. The town is asking voters to hike the sales tax a half percent to 4.5 percent. That additional money, expected to be about $300,000 a year, would be earmarked for parks and recreation maintenance and programs.
Parks maintenance eats up the largest chunk of capital funds in the town and having this tax geared specifically to parks would take some pressure off the entire town budget. It would provide a long-term funding source to perhaps the most popular element of the town of Crested Butte—its green spaces and rec programs. Plus it’s a relatively minor cost to individuals that brings in real relief and touches on everyone using town services. It would add 5 cents for every $10 spent or .50¢ for every $100. That’s not too bad to guarantee some stability.
Unfortunately for those hoping to see the tax implemented, Crested Butte is having a booming sales tax run. Almost every month this year has set a new sales tax collection record. The town’s reserves are currently over the top. The town is party to a giant corporate (Bud Light) financial gift for hosting a Whatever USA promotion.
The bottom line is that the town’s bottom line right now is pretty healthy. Right now. It won’t always be and lots of maintenance items have been put off for years. The concern is the long term and those advocating for the sales tax increase rightfully point out that the town finances fluctuate, sometimes dramatically, based on factors out of our control. The national economy, the success of the ski area to bring in guests, the fickle nature of Mother Nature all impact this tourist economy. One bad summer wildfire in the region that smokes out the valley and keeps tourists away could wreck the budget. And that budget has definitely gotten tighter as the town has added new facilities such as the covered ice rink and Rainbow Park.
Nevertheless, the immediate situation is not a crisis. The Crested Butte Town Council has the political ability to shift funds out of reserves and into the parks or other town department budgets. The sales tax collected up through August was about $220,000 more than last year. That won’t pay for a refrigerated rink but it will pay for a cop car, a dump truck or Zamboni or some needed building maintenance. That financial overflow will not happen every year, but asking for a tax increase when the coffers are brimming is just bad timing.
While the staff makes a good case for looking ahead three and four and five years and preparing for possible financial difficulties now, the Town Council has what seems a bit of a casual attitude. Not every councilman is even in favor of the sales tax increase. The council as a whole certainly hasn’t exactly worked hard to get the word out about a drastic need for the tax increase. That is a political choice as opposed to a staff desire but elections are political. Plus, who knows what carryover there will be from the voters to the council as a result of some lingering Whatever USA emotions?
I’m lukewarm about this tax today. Maybe the sentiment of having to see and feel cuts before passing a new tax is correct. I’d rather see 3B passed than this one but it is a signal that something might be needed even more in the future.

Last week we went over the county offices that are being contested. Other election quickies: Crested Butte voters would be better served at the state level by Kerry Donovan in the state Senate District 5 race and by Millie Hamner for the Colorado House District 61 position.
As for the state initiatives, the one that makes the most sense is to vote for GMO labeling. You can do that by voting yes for Proposition 105 so we have an idea what we are eating in our food.
Again, Mark Udall is a closer representative match to Crested Butte than Corey Gardner for U.S. Senate and John Hickenlooper is a lot closer to Crested Butte than Bob Beauprez when it comes to governor.
You should have your ballots. So put a stamp on yours and get it back to the county or drop it off at one of the sanctioned places in Crested Butte or Gunnison. The final day to cast a vote is November 4.

—Mark Reaman

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