Cripple Creek Council Approves Sales Tax Ballot Issue For School District

RE-1 Leaders Seek to Generate  Funds for Trade School Operation

Rick Langenberg

Leaders of the Cripple Creek/Victor RE-1 School District have reached first base in their attempt to generate needed revenue for operating their new trade, construction and vocational facility.

The big question now is what will the Cripple Creek voters say, who will determine if the funding package makes it to home plate during the November election.

In a tight vote and one featuring a fair amount of debate, the Cripple Creek City Council last week gave the school district’s proposed tax plan the green light. This will set the stage for a sales tax initiative, calling for a one-cent hike, to be voted on during the forthcoming election.

The council approved the ballot plan for a slight sales tax increase by a close 3-2 vote. The verdict paralleled the comments expressed during an earlier work session.

Casting “no” tallies were Mayor Milford Ashworth and Councilman Tom Litherland. The “yes” votes were made by Mayor Pro Tem Melissa Trenary and council members Bruce Brown and Jared Bowman.

Despite expressing some opposition to the plan, the entire council was supportive of the school district and its pursuit of a trade and  construction facility, which featured a grand opening in late May.

Critics of the plan, such as Litherland, questioned the use of a sales tax levy, and instead, believed the school district should ask voters of the entire district for a mill levy hike.

Mary Bielz, the president of the RE-1 District School Board, understood these concerns. But she believes residents are struggling now with a huge increase in property taxes due to an unprecedented hike in values, ranging from 30 percent to 100 percent. She believe the timing surrounding the property tax hikes would kill the district’s chances of obtaining needed funds, if it sought a mill levy  increase.

As a result, she said the school district wanted to follow the model once used by the Community of Caring in generating extra money for the Aspen Mine Center. She said a sales tax increase is a preferred hike most residents prefer, if the specific uses of the levy are demonstrated in detail. “We just want a chance,” said Bielz, in pleading  with the council to support the sales tax ballot initiative.

“We have had an uphill (funding) battle since gaming came,” said Bielz.

The district was successful in landing grants to build a new trade and vocational facility, officially called the CC/V Building Trades Mini-Factory.  In fact, the project was awarded a $1.5 million grant by the state to get the facility up and running.

But having enough funds to operate the facility is still up in the air, with program education costs estimated at $300,000 to $500,000 a year, according to estimates provided by school officials during the spring ground-breaking ceremony.

Why a Sales Tax?

Ashworth, though, questioned the sales tax route, contending that the citizens of Cripple Creek will end up paying the brunt of the tab. “We have to take care of the citizens,” said Ashworth.

“I am 100 percent for the schools, but we have obligations to the citizens of Cripple Creek,” added the mayor. He questioned why outlying residents of the district can’t participate in helping to pay the extra monies needed by the district. Plus, the mayor believes the district should pursue more grants to cover the additional operational expenses.

Bielz said the district is aggressively pursuing other funding pursuits and believes full-heatedly in the goal of financial diversification. But she admitted that the district has reached a critical funding stop sign and needs more financial support for the new facility. She stressed the extra tax funds would benefit the kids of the local community. “The children here have extreme challenges,” said Bielz.

Litherland clearly supported the views of the mayor and suggested that the district pursue a mill levy increase, which he believes is the most equitable way to achieve their goals.

Most council members indicated they would have preferred a mill levy increase plan, but understood the plight of the school district. “This is a hard decision for me,” said Councilman Bruce Brown.  As a long-time resident, he said he has always supported the schools. But he agreed that the mayor has valid concerns, noting, “We have to look out for the city.”

At issue for city officials and leaders is the many infrastructure costs Cripple Creek  faces to pave the way for more housing. And by giving this plan the go-ahead, the city may relinquish its chances of coming  back to the voters with a Cripple Creek plan for a sales tax increase. A sales tax bid by the city got defeated in the most recent election.

Ultimately, the majority  of the council members  contended that by approving the sales tax initiative for the schools, they are passing this decision onto the voters. “Let the voters decide on it,” said Trenary.

Following this positive vote, Bielz acknowledged that school  district leaders have their work cut out for themselves in presenting the plan to the voters. More specifically, the district leaders hope to show the specific uses of the extra sales tax monies, if the plan gets approved.

They plan to hit the ground running in generating support for the sales tax initiative.