City council declines to discuss Re-1 override resolution
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – While individual members of the Glenwood Springs City Council may back the Roaring Fork School District Re-1’s request for a property tax increase, as a governing body it will not support the measure.
“It’s not appropriate for us to advise citizens how to vote on something that’s not directly part of city government,” Councilman Ted Edmonds said at the Thursday evening City Council meeting.
Council, on a 3-2 vote, declined to consider a proposed resolution endorsing the school district’s $4.8 million mill levy override initiative.
The measure appears on the Nov. 1 mail-in ballot as Question 3E within the Re-1 School District, which includes the communities of Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt.
While the Carbondale and Basalt town boards have endorsed the measure, a majority of Glenwood Springs council members said it’s not the council’s place to take a position.
“There are a lot of reasons to support the tax, and I’ve heard a lot of arguments on the other side,” said Councilman Mike Gamba. “But it isn’t our place to advise citizens how to vote.”
Gamba sided with Edmonds and Councilman Todd Leahy in declining to bring the Re-1 school board’s suggested resolution up for discussion.
Mayor Matt Steckler and Councilman Leo McKinney wanted to at least discuss the merits of the mill levy proposal and its impacts on the larger community.
“I think it is important for us to chime in on all issues that impact the community, and this is one of them,” Steckler said. “If it fails, there will be all sorts of impacts in terms of maintaining strong schools. It’s part of our leadership responsibility to discuss such matters.”
Added McKinney, “The people of this community deserve to know where we stand, and I think that’s very important.”
Council members Stephen Bershenyi and Dave Sturges both recused themselves from the vote; Bershenyi because he drives a school bus for Re-1, and Sturges because his wife works for the district’s transportation department.
The override initiative seeks to raise an additional $4.8 million in annual property taxes to make up for a $5.2 million loss in state per-pupil funding to Re-1 schools in recent years.
For the 2011-12 school year, Re-1 eliminated 15 teaching positions across the district and cut a total of 80 full- and part-time staff positions.
Administrative, teacher and staff pay has also been cut, purchase of new textbooks has been suspended indefinitely, and each of the district’s 11 schools has seen a 40 percent reduction in their budgets for supplies, materials and special programming.
According to supporters, the override is needed to maintain existing school funding levels, especially in light of another $2 million to $3 million in state funding cuts projected for next year.
Opponents of the measure say local taxpayers deserve a break, and that the school district should have to adjust its budget accordingly with the downturn in the economy.
The Carbondale Board of Trustees, at a Sept. 13 meeting, voted unanimously to endorse Re-1’s tax measure.
“This goes to the issue of the overall health of our community,” Carbondale Mayor Stacey Bernot said in support of the ballot initiative. “Schools are a big part of that.”
“It’s hard for us to even talk about any kind of economic development if we don’t have a good school system,” Carbondale Trustee Frosty Merriott said at that meeting. “I’m all in favor of trying to get this mill levy passed.”
Matt Hamilton, who is running unopposed for a seat on the Re-1 school board and chairing the campaign in support of the mill levy override, said he respects the Glenwood Springs council’s decision.
“Every community has different politics, and we have to respect those individual barometers,” he said.
As for the level of support for the initiative in Glenwood Springs, Hamilton said he is hopeful.
“I believe we are well-positioned with respect to fundraising, and we have a very dedicated group of volunteers in all of the communities,” he said.
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