Guest opinion: Garfield Re-2 schools property tax mill to increase
In 2008, Garfield School District Re-2 was growing — building new schools, adding teachers and staff and growing our future leaders. The natural gas industry was booming, the assessed valuation of the district was over $1 billion, and property tax rates were low.
The voters of Garfield Re-2 saw a need for great teachers, excellent facilities and the resources to help our students grow, learn and become great community members. Our communities approved bonds in 2001 and 2006 that helped build Highland Elementary, Graham Mesa Elementary, Coal Ridge High School, Cactus Valley Elementary and Riverside Middle School. They supported the remodels of Rifle Middle School and Elk Creek Elementary while providing additions to Wamsley Elementary, Rifle High School and Kathryn Senor Elementary. Mill levies passed in 2004 and 2006 allowed Garfield Re-2 to add teachers and staff to support our growing district.
In 2001 the Garfield Re-2 had 3,652 students. Today we are just shy of 5,000. The community’s support is both very appreciated and necessary as we continue to grow.
The district’s assessed valuation is measured annually. In years past, when assessed valuation was high, it meant that the property taxes collected to support the bonds and mill levies that built new schools and hired Garfield Re-2 teachers and staff were very low. Even with two bonds and two mill levies, tax rates to support the voter-approved initiatives were lower than they had been in years.
As I am sure you have recognized, natural gas prices now are very low, and production of natural gas is also very low compared to 2007-08. This means that the assessed valuation of our district has dropped dramatically — 40 percent — from $1.2 billion to $736 million. Consequently, to meet the voter-approved obligations in the bonds and mill levies, the tax rates for those line items must increase.
At the Dec. 5, 2016, school board meeting, the Garfield Re-2 board of directors approved the mill levy rates for 2017, including the “general program” mill set by the state, and the voter-approved mill levy overrides and bond programs. The Garfield Re-2’s general program mill is one of the lowest in the state at 4.7 mills. The mill levy override and bond line items fluctuate based upon the assessed valuation.
Property owners living within the Garfield School District Re-2 will see the school district’s line item increase 27 percent for the coming year. This is the equivalent of about $34 per $100,000 of residential property value and $124 per $100,000 of commercial property value.
We know that this may be a surprise to many property owners, since the Garfield Re-2 property tax rates have decreased or remained stable for nearly a decade. We have worked hard to keep that rate as low as possible. We have maximized our opportunities in the bond market, resold bonds 13 times since 2001 that resulted in over $500,000 in annual savings to our taxpayers. The steep decline in assessed valuation creates the need to increase these line items for the first time in many years to meet our bonding obligations.
To assist with the increase, the Garfield Re-2 board of directors authorized a one-time use of available bond fund balance to offset what could have been a 45 percent increase in 2017. Use of these funds reduces the increase to 27 percent for the coming year. If the assessed valuation remains the same in 2017, there will likely be an additional increase of 18 percent next year.
The facilities and staff that our previous bonds and mill levies have supported are priceless. The school district is grateful for excellent facilities and fantastic staff that live and work here every day and to the communities and voters that supported these efforts.
Over the last six months, Garfield Re-2 staff has held more than 36 conversations with community members, either individually or collectively. We have heard repeatedly great support for our schools, our teachers and our staff. As Colorado public schools continue to face funding challenges, Garfield Re-2 has been investing in our students, staff and community by deficit spending nearly $1 million a year to maintain our neighborhood schools and quality programming and services. We will be reaching out in the near future to discuss topics with our community like school funding challenges, facilities needs and graduation requirements. We look forward to meeting with anyone and everyone to talk about our students, our staff and our communities.
We will hold a special discussion regarding this information at the Jan. 24 school board meeting at the district 0ffice in Rifle beginning about 6 p.m. We will be holding additional conversations in the near future and will send out information as soon as possible. If you have immediate questions about the information presented here, please contact Director of Finance Christy Hamrick at 970-665-7627 or at email@example.com.
Anne Guettler is Garfield Re-2 school board president.
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Jamestown Revival released “Young Man” – its third pandemic-recorded album – in mid-January and is on a winter tour that that includes a four-date Colorado run with stops in Denver, Telluride and Fort Collins before culminating in a sold-out Belly Up Aspen show on Sunday, Jan. 30.