Chamber, economic group push ballot for School District 51 funds

A School District 51 proposal to place a $12.5 million mill levy override on this year’s ballot won early support from two Grand Junction business groups.

Independently of each other, the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce and the Grand Junction Economic Partnership urged Mesa County voters Friday to approve the idea when they vote in the fall, saying that while businesses will bear the brunt of the increase, it’s worth the extra cost because it directly benefits the community.

“Education truly is paramount to economic development,” said Kelly Flenniken, interim executive director of the partnership. “You need to have a good, high-quality and sustainable K–16 education, really, to be attractive as a business location, and we believe the cost that the businesses are going to bear pale in comparison to providing our children with a quality education.”

The measure calls for adding seven mills to property tax bills in each of the next six years. For homeowners, doing so would add $55.72 for every $100,000 of residential property’s assessed value to their annual tax bills.

Business would pay more.

By law, residential property taxes are based on 7.96 percent of the assessed valued of a home multiplied by the number of mills local governments levy. Businesses, however, pay 29 percent, meaning the override would increase their annual tax bills $203 for every $100,000 of the assessed value of their commercial property.

The district’s board this week approved placing the measure on the Nov. 1 ballot in part because it fears additional state cuts to K–12 spending will force it to trim another $8 million from its annual budget next year. That would come on top of the $28.64 million it’s already had to cut over the past two years.

If voters approve the override, that money would be used to rehire 80 teachers and other district workers that the district was forced to lay off as a result of the budget cuts, District 51 School Board member Greg Mikolai said.

Initially, the board was considering a $14 million override, but scaled that back.

“In reviewing what we were trying to accomplish and what we wanted to do to try to reinvest in our schools, we felt that we could do that with $12.5 million and be a little more sensitive to the worries and wishes of the voters and taxpayers here in Mesa County,” Mikolai said. “We’re not going to impose a burden any more on the taxpayers of Mesa County than is absolutely necessary.”

STATE INITIATIVE WORRIES SOME

Proponents of the override are concerned, however, that a statewide initiative that will be on the ballot asking voters to increase sales and income taxes to benefits schools could lead voters to rejecting both.

That measure, Proposition 103, calls for raising the state’s sales taxes from 2.9 percent to 3 percent and the corporate and individual income tax rate from 4.63 percent to 5 percent for the next five years.

Proponents say the measure would generate about $536 million a year.

Diane Schwenke, executive director of the chamber, said her greatest fear is people will lump that measure into the local effort, killing them both.

Though the economic partnership didn’t take a position on Proposition 103, the chamber came out against it at the same time it decided to support the district mill levy increase.

“The proposition is going to make it even more difficult to get the override passed, that’s why we took action on both issues at the same time, to try to get the message out as quickly as possible to the local voters to vote for the local one,” Schwenke said. “Commercial property owners are going to get hit at a time when there’s not a lot of fat in their budgets, but we also think it’s extremely important long-term.”

The trick to getting the local measure passed is to persuade voters that if they want to support one or the other, it would be best to side with the override, said Duke Wortman, co-chairman of a group that is to lead the campaign supporting the override. That way they know their taxes are staying local, he said.

“I’m dancing around this because I’m not supposed to come out against statewide issues affecting education, but my tough stance is if you vote for ours and not theirs, we obviously benefit from those direct dollars coming from Mesa County and staying in Mesa County,” Wortman said.

“We are sure hoping that the voters can buy into the fact that they are providing some jobs, but they’re mostly providing some stability in the district’s budgeting process that really comes down to kids.”



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