Meanwhile, Rec District Tax Question Heads to April Ballot
MONTROSE — Montrose voters will consider two potential tax increases this year. One was put on the ballot by the Montrose School District RE-1J on Tuesday and seeks a November property tax to fund classroom improvements. The other, from the Montrose Recreation District, seeks a sales tax increase in April to help pay for a new recreation center.
At least some Montrose residents have expressed the view that the two measures may be in opposition, and have said they would support school taxes in November only if rec district tax measure – Measure B on the ballot – fails in April.
The school measure would raise $2.9 million. The school board, mindful of possible competition for difficult-to-win voter support for tax increases, unanimously voted Tuesday to place the question on the ballot.
"Competition is not the right word," said Montrose school board president Leann Tobin Wednesday. “Voters need to be educated about what they are voting for and make an informed decision based on the merit of each proposal.”
Montrose resident Kay Heinschel, who earlier this month voiced his opposition to the rec center tax to the Montrose City Council, stating he would rather fund schools, asked the school board Tuesday evening to attach performance provisions with the mil levy override to measure student improvement with the new funds.
"My support of the mil levy override needs to see that you have included all these issues," Heinschel told the board.
Tobin said many residents Tuesday wanted similar provisions attached to the mil levy.
"They said show us accountability, that it’s working, show us that the money we approved has gone to make our schools better," Tobin said.
"In a lot of ways [the two tax measures] are really different,” said Barbara Bynum, a board member with Friends of Montrose Community Rec Center. “It's not an either-or situation, the two proposals are really different in lot of ways, one builds something, the other pays for operation of something,"
Montrose School District Superintendent Mark MacHale said the school tax money, if approved by voters, would be used to hire 27 new teachers, provide every district teacher with three additional "professional development" days per school year, and purchase new digital learning technology for students.
MacHale said these areas have been the district's top priority since 2011, when the Community School Improvement Team made recommendations to the school board regarding the district's most pressing issues.
A portion of the $2.9 million is also earmarked for renovations to aging facilities such as Columbine Middle School.
Last year, the district failed to win a state grant to fund half the cost of replacing the deteriorating school. Had the grant been approved, the district would have pursued a property tax increase to fund the other half.
MacHale said that last year was the district’s best shot at the school replacement grant.
"Our number one priority is teaching and learning,” he said. “On the other hand, Columbine is not going away. We may have to wait a few years.”
MacHale said Tuesday's vote was just "an acknowledgement to the community" that the district is seeking a mill levy override. A complete breakdown of the proposal will be ready for public inspection in the coming months.
Ever since the creation of CSIT in August 2011, MacHale said, the district has focused on continued improvements. At the same time, it has contended with nearly $7 million in budget cuts.
According to a recent report by the Colorado School Finance Project, for the past 19 years, the per-pupil spending gap between Colorado students and the national average has continued to widen "from less than $500 per student in the early to mid 1990s to between $1,800 and $2,700 less by FY (fiscal year) 2010-11."
The last time per-pupil funding was or above the national average was in 1986, according to a similar report.
In Montrose this year, total per-pupil funding within the Montrose district increased 1.9 percent, from $7,653 to $7,797.
In recent performance reports by the state, students within the Montrose district are testing better and maintaining attendance. The district is also seeing a reduction in the number of dropouts.
MacHale said the district's continued efforts are in the areas of student achievement, recruiting and retaining quality staff, and improving facilities.
"All in that order," he said.
Now, he said, “it’s time to pay for it.”
Rec District Reveals Impact Study
Meanwhile, the Montrose Recreation District is pursuing plans to ask voters for a 0.3 percent sales tax increase to build a new Community Recreation Center on the city's south side. If approved, the tax would raise the city’s sales tax rate to 3.3 percent. The life expectancy of the tax is about 25 years, according to the MRD.
An economic impact study by CPI Consulting was conducted for the MRD. The study states that construction of the recreation center would provide a $50 million-dollar boost to the local area. The district "acknowledges that the entire $50 million will not necessarily happen in Montrose County" but notes that the project will employ a majority of local laborers.
According to the study, the rec center would create "500 one-year full‐time equivalent jobs over the course of the project."
"Operations at the CRC and Field house will create a total of 80 new jobs," the report said.
The projection is for 20 new jobs at the facilities themselves, plus additional jobs elsewhere.
Montrose area residents, according to the report, would generate 160,250 visits to the rec center, resulting in $527,150 in revenues; non‐area residents are projected to generate 26,000 visits, for $137,790 in additional district revenues.
Montrose resident Curtis Robinson, a CPA since 1960, said the report’s projected $4.6 million-dollar annual economic impact to Montrose is "way inflated" and he is leading an effort to oppose the sales tax.
"I'm not opposed to a rec center in this community, but I look at the priorities of this community and this is way down the line,” said Robinson, who has created the website, www.stopthewreck.com. “This is a want, not a need."
Robinson said the sales tax proposal removes $1.3 million annually from the “Main Street and Townsend” economy, and a better option would be to pursue a property tax increase to fund a CRC.
"Smart communities do it with a property tax,” he said. “We'd be hitting the very poorest people to pay for this.”
Robinson, who opposed last year’s school tax measure said he would support November’s school ballot measure if the rec district sales tax fails.
"It's the wrong priority,” Robinson said of Measure B. “We need to fund our schools.
On the other side of the rec center issue, The Friends of Montrose Community Rec Center are working to promote the passage of Measure B, arguing that it would benefit not only the economy but also enhance public health and improve the quality of life for residents.
"They’re both about investing in our community," Friends of Montrose Community Rec Center Barbara Bynum said of the two tax initiatives. "This is about locals investing in our community, and those who have said (Measure B) would be a burden for people who could least afford it. I disagree with that. It would afford recreation for everyone.
Montrose City Councilor Bob Nicholson said the new rec center is necessary because the Montrose Aquatic Center, while "one of the first facilities of its kind on the Western Slope," has reached the end of its useful life.
If a sales tax is approved, the MRD plans to repurpose the aquatic center and turn it into a field house.
Nicholson, contract manager for the aquatic center when it was built in the mid 1980s, said it does not "meet the current needs of all user groups."
"The air contains a significant amount of corrosive agents formed as a by-product of the pool disinfection system," he said. Structural elements in the building are also rusting, and mechanical systems are failing.
He said if the building is not repurposed, the next step could be possible demolition.
Ballots for the April 1 municipal election are due by 7 p.m. at City Hall.