School Sales Tax Initiative Gaining Momentum WP Council Endorses RE-2 Hike Rick Langenberg

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Now, the real final stretch has arrived for proponents of a rare campaign and trade-off to raise sales taxes slightly by generating possibly $2.3 million annually in additional funds for the Woodland Park RE-2 School District.

If successful, the initiative would become one of the few times in recent history that a sales tax hike gets the okay from Woodland Park voters.
Nevertheless, school district boosters aren’t backing away from the challenge, contending they are dealing with an educational funding crisis. In the last six years, the district has incurred $15 million in cuts in state funding, a scenario that has created some of the lowest teacher salaries in the state, according to officials.

To date, the campaign for Ballot Issue 1 has received a warm response by Woodland Park city elected leaders, school board members and civic leaders, with little opposition. Campaign organizers have conducted a staunch effort to gain support through a slew of community forums.

And last week, the Woodland Park City Council endorsed the ballot issue, citing the importance of quality education to the area. Previously, proponents, in a response to preliminary criticism, made a last-minute change on the issue wording to outline how the extra money will be spent.

If the issue passes, the extra funds would be used for teacher salaries, technology enhancements, new school trade programs, college-related courses, infrastructure improvements and more.

“It is a win-win,” said Nancy Lecky, a school board member and a representative of the pro-sales tax committee. “This will provide real tax relief. Our community cannot be left behind.”

With this tax increase of a little more than a penny, property owners would in turn receive a lowering of their school-related tax bill by the removal of 6.725 mills. This would occur through paying off the school district’s general obligation debt with a portion of the sales tax dollars. This would equate to a reduction of about $154 a year for a home valued at close to $300,000 and $975 for a $500,000 business.

School board members say they sought creative way to increase the district’s revenue without putting a strain on local businesses and property owners. Woodland Park is filled with many special districts and tax entities, most of which have additional levies.

Lecky, along with other campaign supporters, says that if citizens study the issue or are presented the proper information, they will support the measure. “I don’t see how you can’t support this issue if you know the facts,” said Lecky. “It is so important to our school and our community.” As a result, campaign organizers have been quite visible at community functions and active with social media posts.

According to Lecky, the only real tough hurdle they face is the perception of a sales tax increase, a levy that is sometimes viewed as a death sentence in conservative Teller County.

But the one mulled by the school district is aimed at capturing substantial sales tax dollars from visitors, tourists and people who aren’t Woodland Park residents. Officials estimate that at least 40 percent of the sales tax dollars will be generated from people who live outside of Woodland Park.

On paper, that theory sounds attractive. But historically, sales tax proposals have received the boot by local voters. Last November, a bid by the Ute Pass Ambulance District to raise sales taxes was defeated by a two-to-one margin. An earlier bid for a sales tax increase for a recreation center suffered an even tougher fate.

Still, proponents say they have done extensive research and believe the current plan would emerge as a big win for the school district, the community and taxpayers, and for local students.

“While this unique alternative to funding schools makes sense and is a win/win for the citizens of Woodland Park and the school district, the real beneficiaries will be the students,” said John Pacheco, a former superintendent of the RE-2 Districts.

Some officials, though, are skeptical. “I think this is going to be an uphill battle,” said Woodland Park Mayor Pro Tem Carrol Harvey, when the plan was first introduced in early February. “Your education program for this better be good.” Some skeptics also argue that the extra tax will impact grocery sales in Woodland Park, forcing some to shop more down the Pass.

The other hurdle the group faces deals with timing. The April 5 ballot is filled to capacity in Woodland Park with nine city charter amendments, a competitive mayoral race with three contenders and much interest in the national presidential races. One fact remains certain: the April 5 election should generate a strong participation rate.

Also, few pro-tax plans have received as strong support from elected leaders as Ballot Issue 1. Moreover, any civic leaders say people will save money by supporting the initiative.