Sixteen school districts seeking tax overrides

Mesa County Valley School District 51 and De Beque School District 49-JT will have plenty of company on Election Day when it comes to seeking mill levy overrides as a way to plug holes in state funding.

Sixteen school districts have placed override questions on Nov. 1 ballots this year. A quarter of those districts paired their override questions with bond issues.

Aside from bond issues, mill levy overrides are the only way school districts can ask voters for more tax money. Overrides, if approved by voters, allow a district to increase local property taxes by a specified amount and use the additional money within the district.

Requests in this year’s override questions range from $360,000 a year in De Beque to $20 million a year in Castle Rock’s Douglas County School District.

Eagle County RE-50 School Board President Connie Kincaid-Strahan said Eagle’s board was spurred to place a $6 million-a-year override on the ballot because more cuts are expected for 2012–13 after making cuts the past two years due to state funding shortfalls.

“I don’t think any year is a good one to ask for a tax increase, especially when we’ve been in a recession for years, but our board decided we didn’t have the luxury to not ask voters what they wanted to do,” she said.

If the override in Eagle fails, Kincaid-Strahan said district administrators have plans to increase class sizes, possibly close schools and make cuts to transportation and extracurricular funds.

Cuts that will affect students are on the table for 2012–13 in Garfield RE-2 school district as well. Voters will consider a $3 million-a-year override in November.

RE-2 School Board President Jay Rickstrew said he knows it is a difficult time to ask voters for a tax increase. He just wants voters’ input on whether the district should increase property taxes or go ahead and make those cuts.

“I’m confident telling our voters we’ve cut all the fat out of our budget. We’re deficit spending this year, which means we had money in reserve,” Rickstrew said.

If every override question passes this year, 2011 would tie 2010 for the second most overrides passed in one year in Colorado, according to the Colorado Department of Education. The record for most overrides passed in one year was made in 1995, when voters approved 33 overrides.


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