Woodland Park Re-2 School District Receives Reprieve on Extra Sales Tax

Council and School Board to Meet Again This Summer

Trevor Phipps

The Woodland Park RE-2 School District can for now retain an extra tax approved earlier by local voters, but the fate of this issue still remains uncertain, as some WP leaders want a sunset date for the revenue hike.

Concerns still persist over how the money is being spent.

For some time, debate has ensued on whether the city should keep a voter-approved sales tax increase in place to help support the school district. Some council members have expressed their desires to leave the sales tax increase alone, while others have said they wish it to end.

The council, in a recent meeting, opted to keep the tax increase in place.  However, some city representatives decided to keep an anvil hung over the school board’s head until they meet again during budget time this summer.

After the subject came up at several recent council meetings, the council decided to introduce an ordinance to end the sales tax increase as move to encourage the school board to hold a joint session with the city council to review the details of the intergovernmental agreement (IGA) that was written in 2016 after the voters approved a 1.09 percent sales tax increase to financially aid the local school district.

After the council and school board held a joint work session, some council members still wished to either eliminate or sunset the sales tax increase due to a lack of transparency. But instead, the council agreed that the ordinance that would end the tax should stay on the back burner until the school board signs the IGA and the district produces information on where the money is being spent.

According to Woodland Park City Manager Aaron Vassalotti, the school board agreed to the written terms of the IGA saying that it would need to be reviewed every three years instead of five. The IGA would also include a yearly review by city council where the school board can present where they are spending the money.

“The only problem I have is that the IGA is not actually signed,” Councilwoman Catherine Nakai commented, in discussing the issue. “So, I am not necessarily comfortable voting to not approve this (the bill to end the sales tax). I would prefer to table it until the IGA is signed by July 15, so they can come before us, present their accountability and the IGA is signed. I would be more comfortable with that.”

Councilman Rusty Neal agreed with Nakai, even though he will not be on the council when the issue gets decided this summer. “I would still like to have a little pressure on the board to come through and sign the document,” Neal said.

Split Opinions Issued on Retaining Tax Hike

When it came time for public comment on the issue, opinions were once again fairly divided on this issue.

“I was highly disappointed at the city council meeting two weeks ago when the conversation about the IGA was followed by discussion about removing the sales tax from our kids completely,” Woodland Park resident Nicole Waggoner said. “I understand that not everyone on the city council agrees with or likes the BOE (school board). This is not, however about them. Elections happen and new people come into the fold. What does not change is the need for strong financial support for our children and their education.”

Waggoner said that the city council shouldn’t threaten the school board with removing the tax. She also mentioned the fact that teachers and students could suffer if the council removes the sales tax increase.

Other residents, including Mary Sekowski, also didn’t like the idea of further tabling the ordinance. “I think it is disgusting to hold this leverage over the board of education when they have been cooperating with the city council to agree to the terms,” Sekowski said. “This just needs to be put to rest and the council needs to stop using the kids of our district as leverage to get the BOE to comply with your demands when they have already said they will in writing from their attorney.”

But not everyone agreed that the sales tax increase for the schools should stay in place. “I urge you now to shut down the sales tax monies being given to the administrative entities of the Woodland Park School District through immediate action,” resident Anna Hand said. “You may be concerned that people will see this action as taking money away from our kids. Unfortunately, these monies are currently being redirected, misused and stolen before reaching the kids. The leadership of our school district is operating as a dictatorship. Responsible practices are not in place to account for any funds.”

In their final vote, council agreed 5 to 2 to table the proposal that would end the sales tax until July. Council Members Robert Zuluaga and Frank Connors voted “no” on tabling the bill after expressing their thoughts that the sales tax increase should stay in place for the schools.