Giving Political Peace a Chance in Woodland Park!

WP Leaders Retreat From Plan to Axe Sales Tax For RE-2 School District

Council to Seek Independent, Third-Party Audit

Trevor Phipps

After a much-heated controversy surrounding a voter-approved sales tax increase for the Woodland Park RE-2 District with WP leaders earlier indicating they want to end the levy, the city council is now adopting a different and less confrontational stance.

During a special city council work session last week regarding this heated issue, the council definitely backed away from their threat to remove the levy, okayed earlier by the voters of Woodland Park, due to concerns over how the money is being spent. They now appear to support the idea of establishing an overall, independent audit process, handled by a third party.


At last week’s workshop session, Woodland Park Mayor Kellie Case lectured public speakers several times about the fact that the council is not trying to throw away the sales tax increase that many believe is necessary to operate the schools within the district. The council stance, in fact, at the session was drastically different from a previous meeting when some leaders suggested the immediate removal of the city sales tax increase and blasted the new policies of the RE-2 School Board and Superintendent Ken Witt.


Several leaders who have opposed the current direction of the RE-2 School District administration actually apologized for “getting emotional” during the last regularly scheduled meeting when the issue was brought up. Rather, the council decided that they just want a third-party audit, and to not strip away the sales tax increase like many had previously suggested.


To start, Councilwoman Carrol Harvey gave a presentation on the history of the sales tax. She gave the council a perspective as to why the tax was put up for a vote by the citizens of Woodland Park, and how the city was able to receive it and deliver it to the school district.


Councilman Steve Smith, who is known for staying quiet, asked for line items being put in the budget so taxpayers know exactly where the tax money is going. Other council members reiterated the fact that more transparency was needed. They stressed that it has been a main subject brought to the council by members of the community.


Others on the dais made it clear that axing the sales tax increase was not on their radar. “I’d like to start off with the idea that we not eliminate the sales tax,” Councilman George Jones said. “I know that there is some calling for that, but I think it would be very detrimental for the city.”


Councilwoman Catherine Nakai also agreed that the sales tax increase should not be stripped away, but that the school district needed to provide more information to local taxpayers. “All this community is really asking for is that we get a line item budget,” Nakai said. “If you are using it for all of the staff… great. If it is going to Merit (Academy)… fine. But, give us where it is going line item by line item. That’s what I keep hearing.”


One idea mentioned was to hire a third party to do an audit and give the city council more information about how the district was spending the sales tax. Case was hopeful that the issue could finally come to a resolution, and the city and school board could develop a way to satisfy the citizens’ demands for more accountability regarding how the money is being used.


“I think we have come up with some ideas that we can further explore and try to resolve this and move forward and help the community come back together,” Case said. “Because this divisiveness does not accomplish anything. I think we need to find a way to find something that can be satisfactory and something we can rely on.”

Public Comment Split on Sales Tax

During the last half of the two-hour work session, the council opened it up for public comment on the subject. Several residents took them up on the offer and voiced their opinions on the school sales tax increase.


As has been the case in previous public discussions on this issue, the reactions were split with some pushing the council to get rid of the sales tax increase, and others urging them to leave it alone. Each side spoke passionately, forcing the mayor to end speeches at the time limit, and silence the crowd from cheering and making comments.


Most of the comments against the school sales tax increase reiterated the fact that many think the school board has not been transparent, and that the board and superintendent are not using the funds in a way that the voters approved in 2016. The residents in favor of eliminating the sales tax increase think that the council has an obligation to ensure that the sales tax the city collects is going to what it was originally allocated for.


But many residents opposed having the council end the sales tax, which was originally approved by Woodland Park voters by a fairly substantial margin. They cited the fact that the citizens voted for the sales tax hike to relieve the tax burden for property owners, and to generate extra, needed money for the district from tourists and families that visit the area, instead of just placing the burden on city residents. Many contested that the sales tax increase was still needed to fund the school district, and that taking an 11 percent cut in the district’s revenue would be detrimental to local families.


In the end, the council decided to not move forward with the ordinance to immediately eliminate the sales tax increase. At the same time, they all stressed the importance for getting information about how the money is being spent. The ordinance brought forward to end the 1.09 percent sales tax increase for the school district is on hold until July. That’s when the school board and city council are slated to have another joint meeting to discuss the specifics of the sales tax agreement.