WP Council Plans To Scrutinize RE-2 School District Sales Tax Agreement

Questions Raised About How Taxpayer-Approved Money Is Getting Spent

Trevor Phipps


Months ago, local elected leaders made it clear that residents of Woodland Park need to know more details surrounding the use of a sales tax increase voters passed to benefit the RE-2 District.

That approval occurred about eight years ago.

Last summer, the city requested to get together with the school board and redraft the intergovernmental agreement (IGA) between the two entities regarding the sales tax increase so that the city was better informed on where the sales tax dollars were being spent.


But according to city officials, the council has since been “stonewalled” by the district. In fact, this issue also came to light earlier during a school board candidates forum, sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce. This question was raised on several occasions.


When the subject was originally brought up, former School Board Director David Illingworth told council that he didn’t like the fact that Woodland Park elected leaders were questioning the voter-approved sales tax for the district. He said that since the sales tax raise came with a reduction in property taxes, repealing the sales tax could prompt efforts to raise property taxes to make up for the deficit in funds.


But during a meeting in February, the topic was once again brought up by council members. Councilwoman Catherine Nakai first asked the city attorney if he had heard any reply from the district regarding the council’s request to review the sales tax IGA.


City Attorney Geoff Wilson stated that the city has not heard anything back from the school district regarding a meeting to review the sales tax agreement.

Councilwoman Carrol Harvey said that the city has a responsibility to the citizens to find out what the sales tax dollars are being used for.


The main fact that bothered council members was that there was no action taken by the school board after Mayor Hilary LaBarre had requested a joint work session  to review the IGA, since it is outdated. LaBarre had contacted former School Board President David Rusterholtz and  new Board President Mick Bates. But she complained that she didn’t hear back from either one.

Why Are We Getting Stonewalled?

“I would remind the council that in July of last year we began an outreach to the school district to update that intergovernmental agreement and we have basically been stonewalled, there’s no other way to put it,” Councilwoman Harvey said. “In suggestion to the council, I would like to ask the city attorney to capture the essence of the IGA in a resolution. And include in that (I don’t want to call it a punitive action), but basically a means to invite the school district to acknowledge the IGA. And if they are still unable to come to a public hearing to discuss it, then we include a sunset date for the tax.”

But not all the council members share concerns about scrutinizing the use of these funds.

Councilman Robert Zuluaga didn’t seem to like the idea for a couple of reasons. “I don’t know why we would insert ourselves as a council between something the citizens voted for,” Zuluaga stated. “We are a pass-through agency for these funds, and it seems to me that we are taking two parallel tracks here and trying to insert ourselves into the school district’s business. And really you are going to have to ask yourselves how popular it would be to the citizens for the council to come in and say, ‘we are going to cancel the sales tax revenue to the schools.’”


Harvey said she agreed with Zuluaga, but the council did have a responsibility to the citizens to make sure the sales tax was being spent on what it was meant for. Originally, the bulk of this money was tailored for capital improvements and higher teacher salaries.

She reiterated the fact that the council has been ignored for more than six months when they have reached out to try to update the IGA.

This issue, in fact, was even raised during a candidates’ forum, attended by close to 100 people, just prior to the Nov. election.  During this highly contentious election, two incumbents were re-elected and a new challenger won a contested seat.

Most of the council expressed a desire to meet with the school board regularly so they know where the sales tax dollars were being spent. “It’s not that we are using this as a threat to the school board,” Harvey explained. “We are simply saying that at the five-year mark from 2016 we were to come together as two entities to review the IGA and either renew it or revise it and that did not occur. I got a public school education and I know that the five-year mark was in 2021 and it is now 2024.”


Harvey said that the council does have the authority to end the sales tax given to the schools, but that is not what she is recommending. “We have one of the highest sales tax levels in the state,” Harvey stated. “And if we can’t prove where that money is being spent, we owe it to our taxpayers to get rid of it.”


Councilman Frank Connors though, said he was very concerned that if the city got rid of the sales tax, then the property taxes would then go up. Nakai and Harvey disagreed and said that the sales tax portion given to the schools could be taken away without a property tax hike.


In the end, the council agreed by a consensus to ask the city attorney to draft an ordinance regarding the sales tax IGA. The council will then have the chance to further discuss the issue before voting on the new measure.