Voters in Breckenridge will see a question on their ballots in November asking for approval on a new property tax to continue the town’s child care subsidy and scholarship program.
“We see a really strong current of support in the community to continue this program, and also to do it with a property tax,” Councilwoman Jennifer McAtamney said.
But even if the measure passes, town officials say property owners will see a decrease in their taxes, because the ballot question would replace, at a slightly lower rate, a mil levy that will end next year.
Breckenridge leaders, who decided earlier this year to ask voters to pass a measure to continue the child care program, opted for a property tax over a sales tax June 11 at the urging of the business community.
Voters will be asked to approve a 1.652 mil, which equates to $131 per year for every $1 million in residential property value or $479 for every $1 million in commercial property value.
If approved, the new property tax will take the place of a higher mil levy passed several years ago to allow for the construction of public facilities including the Breckenridge Recreation Center. With those buildings nearly paid off, the tax will end in 2014.
“We’re asking for less money, and people’s property taxes will go down,” McAtamney said. “It will replace the existing mill levy at a lower rate. That seemed like a good way to continue funding it.”
Breckenridge’s child care scholarship program currently provides assistance to roughly 150 families who either live or work in the Upper Blue River Basin. Of those who received assistance in the 2011/12 school year, 70 percent both lived and worked in the Upper Blue.
To be eligible for the program, parents must spend 12-15 percent of their income on early childhood education expenses. The scholarship is then provided to families for whom the cost of care exceeds that amount to close the gap.
Supporters of the program say it takes into account the high cost of living and low-paying jobs that are associated with a tourism-driven economy and allows “real” families to remain in Breckenridge.
“You see the struggles that places like Vail and Aspen have to keep (a) middle class,” McAtamney said. “It really helps the middle class families that are living paycheck to paycheck.”
Detractors argue the program uses tax dollars paid by everyone for the benefit of a limited number of people.
“I don’t think that the mayor and council should add more taxes to Breckenridge homeowners and visitors to pay the household child care bills of a greedy few,” Breckenridge resident Howard Wilson stated in a letter to the editor on the issue, which appeared in the Summit Daily earlier this year. “Responsible Summit parents are already putting their children first every day; without taking money from their neighbors.”
Some community members have also questioned whether a town with millions of dollars in reserves really needed a new revenue source to support a program projected to cost roughly $800,000 annually.
But a recent survey of nearly 400 people showed widespread support for town child care funding.
More than 80 percent of respondents said they want to see the scholarship program continue, including 70 percent of business owners and 85 percent of people employed in Breckenridge.
The survey showed 62 percent of business owners and 75 percent of registered voters would support a tax to continue the scholarships.
The survey was conducted online and was administered by the town.
The Breckenridge Town Council will need to finalize the ballot language by July to get the question in front of voters in November. Only Breckenridge voters will see the Breckenridge tax question. A second ballot question to provide funding for child care will be put to voters county-wide.