Voters will see several local issues on ballot
Schools, fire district, hospital all have items on November ballot
The League of Women’s voters hosted a forum last week on the upcoming ballot questions for the November election. Officials gave presentations on three ballot items and then answered questions from the audience. The event took place at First National Bank in Cortez.
Amendment 66: Funding for public schools
This measure would amend the Colorado Constitution and state law to change school financing and the income tax imposed on individuals, estates, and trusts.
It repeals the requirement that public education funding increases be tied to the rate of the inflation. If passed it would increase individual income tax rates from 4.63 percent to 5 percent on federal taxable income up to $75,000; and from 4.63 percent to 5.90 percent on federal taxable income over $75,000.
Should this proposal be adopted, the first fiscal year’s income tax revenues would increase by about $950 million. The average Colorado family will pay $11 per month more in income taxes.
The budget for Montezuma-Cortez schools has been dropping steadily since 2007, said Re-1 superintendent Alex Carter. Rural schools like Cortez with the least amount of state education funding would benefit the most.
“This amendment would give the Cortez school district $3.7 million per year in additional revenues,” Carter said. “Colorado is 46th in the U.S. for education funding. If this passes, our state will be in 41st place.”
The amendment includes $1.5 million to the Board of Cooperative Education Services (BOCES) help fund special-education needs for schools in Southwest Colorado.
“It is a game-changer for our school district, we are the big winners, because this really creates equity for school districts that serve large at-risk populations,” Carter said. “It benefits the low-income school districts the most.”
For example, Mesa Elementary has a high number of at-risk students, but because of budget cuts, it went from three special-education teachers to one, despite rising student population.
The revenues collected will go into the state education fund and then distributed from there. Under the measure not all schools will share equally in the new revenues.
“Some school districts need more to serve harder-to-serve populations. We are one of those,” Carter said. “How to spend the money will be left to the discretion of the districts with the idea that we know how to educate our kids the best.”
Budget cuts eliminated 12 administration positions over the last few years at the district, but Carter said the additional revenue would expand badly needed support services for kids rather than replace office jobs.
“There are not enough art teachers, PE teachers, music programs. Those programs are part of a well-rounded education,” he said. “We need more counselors. Kids arrive at school in trauma from troubled home life, and if they are in trauma, they are not going to learn algebra. We need to get them some counselor services in order to get them ready to learn.”
Carter said some of the additional funding will go toward teachers raises as well, a key component of retaining talented staff.
“It will be more for more,” he said. “Raises mean additional days on the contract, but teachers don’t have a problem with that. They want to work.”
Southwest Memorial Hospital
The Montezuma County Hospital District is asking voters for permission to accept grant money for purchasing badly needed medical equipment and to help fund infrastructure upgrades.
Ballot measure 5D is not asking for a tax increase, said Bill Thompson, of Friends of the Hospital, rather it opens up opportunities for the hospital to pursue, and be awarded, grants from the Department of Local Affairs for medical equipment and operation utilities.
The state grants count toward total tax revenue on the district’s books, even though they are funded from fees collected from the gas and oil industry, not from local taxes.
The district is asking for an exemption to Colorado law that says any revenues collected over a maximum increase of 5.5 percent from year to year cannot be accepted, Thompson said.
“We can’t receive more than $27,000 per year in additional money and that locks us out of a lot of grants for expensive equipment that we qualify for as a rural hospital,” he said. “If this passes, it will not increase your taxes one penny. We would like to have the right to apply for grants and receive them.”
The question is the last item of the ballot, so it is important for voters to make sure they complete the entire ballot.
Grants currently not available but would be if the measure passes would help replace an outdated boiler and emergency generator which combined will cost $1 million.
“They are 40 years old and are on their last legs,” Thompson said.
Maintaining a high standard of patient services will also benefit from bringing in more grant money.
“Being able to diagnose patients is obviously critical, and without that equipment we can’t do the proper diagnosis,” Thompson said. “And quite frankly, we are also in competition with a couple of nearby hospitals for patients.”
It was pointed out that the taxes that fund the DOLA grants come partly from the local carbon-dioxide mining industry.
“This is a way to get some of that money back here,” said Montezuma County Commissioner Keenan Ertel. “Passing this measure redirects those DOLA funds to our local hospital. Right now it is going to other hospitals.”
Cortez Fire Protection District
The Cortez Fire Protection District is asking for a tax increase to help replace aging equipment and improve staffing in order to handle increasing emergency calls.
Chief Jeff Vandevoorde said the district receives 90 percent of its budget from property taxes, and as property values drop, so does the budget. That, combined with an increase in the volume of calls, is putting a strain on operations.
“When property taxes go down, our budget goes down,” he said. “But at the same time, our emergency calls have increased 142 percent in six years, going from 600 calls, to 1,570 so far this year.”
Ballot question Referendum 5A CFPD requests an additional 2.5 mills, which would create $360,000 more in funding. For a house with an assessed value of $150,000, it would mean an additional $29.85 per year, or $2.49 per month.
Vandevoorde said there is a set budget for what the money will be used for, and it is available to anyone who wants to look at it.
The additional revenue will be used for manpower, and to upgrade aging equipment, vehicles and safety gear.
“We are under federal mandate to replace things after a certain amount of years,” Vandevoorde said.
For example, the air packs firefighters use to safely enter a fire are at the end of their usable life. They will cost $360,000 to replace. Rescue vehicles, radios, and other equipment are also outdated, he said.
Retaining a qualified staff is also a priority.
“Some of it will pay for our employees. We need to be very competitive with salaries and benefits. Otherwise we will become a training ground, where we pay to train them and then they move on to a better-paying department.”
Responding to a question of why firefighters are seen driving around a lot, the chief said there is a misconception that they are not doing anything.
“We go on five to 15 calls per day, and they do not all require us to have lights and sirens. They are working, responding to calls, going to other stations for maintenance and equipment repairs.”
Twenty-four hour shifts also require getting food, and going to the grocery store for meals cooked up at the station. Taking the equipment with them is critical for public safety, Vandevoorde said.
“They have to have their emergency gear with them at all times. How bad would it be if they were at City Market getting groceries and somebody has a heart attack and they don’t have their defibrillator or EMS bags with them?”