Editorial: School and county budget watch | SummitDaily.com

Editorial: School and county budget watch

Summit Daily Editorial Board

This is a tale of budgets past, present and future – all of which are of significant concern to Summit County taxpayers.

In 2008, when the Summit County commissioners asked voters to approve a property tax increase to help offset shrinking revenues, it was greeted with plenty of skepticism but ultimately passed. In 2010, we’re seeing some payoff from that forward thinking in a county budget that’s balanced flat, yet still includes boosted hours for the libraries and a bit more money for some needed capital projects like road and bridge work and expansion of the Old Dillon Reservoir. Among other belt-tightening measures, the commissioners instituted hiring and salary freezes – like so many private businesses in the county – and, as a result, Summit County is in much better shape financially than a good many other Colorado counties.

Not surprisingly, the Summit School District also is having to tighten its belt – and it likely won’t be pretty. Anticipating significantly reduced dollars, school administrators and board members are wisely explaining to the community how the state of Colorado’s fiscal mess is going to negatively affect local schools. They are also testing reaction to a possible (and some say likely) ballot question for November, where the district could ask voters to keep in place part of a mill-levy bump that would otherwise sunset next year. The idea is that a “yes” vote would still result in a net decrease on individual property tax bills.

No doubt some portion of voters have already voted “no” in their minds, and it’s an article of faith among many that the school district simply cannot and should not raise taxes during tough times such as these. And for those who would argue that this is not an increase but keeping in place an existing tax, we point out that, because the initial approve included the sunset provision, this is in fact an increase.

There is no question that losing $1.6 million in general fund revenue for the 2010-2011 school year is cause for concern and will likely have some negative effects on the education system. For that reason, taxpayers should at least give the district the opportunity to present its case and to demonstrate, as the county did, a willingness to make tough choices and trim any fat wherever it can be found. But in explaining what things might look like with that loss of funding, they need to be prepared to deal with the inevitable criticism that will come over teacher compensation. Last year, with the recession in full swing, Summit County teachers demanded and received a 6-percent pay increase – a fact that won’t be forgotten when residents – already reeling from the continuing economic contraction – are asked to support a tax increase.

While the community has a strong track record of financially supporting education, in today’s climate if the school district goes for a ballot question and wants support at the polls, it must demonstrate clearly and openly a large degree of fiscal prudence as well as details of what next school year would look like with that $1.6 million shortfall.

The Summit Daily Editorial Board consists of Jim Morgan, Alex Miller, Ryan Wondercheck, Matt Sandberg, Jim Ernst and Miles Porter.

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