Council debates tax initiatives

Mayor expects votes of endorsement

— Presentations from the Moffat County School District and The Memorial Hospital at Tuesday's Craig City Council meeting left Mayor Don Jones "no doubt" the council would vote to endorse tax initiatives from both entities at its next meeting Oct. 23.

The Moffat County School District will float a 20-year, $29.5 million bond issue in the Nov. 6 general election.

The Memorial Hospital is asking voters for a property tax increase to generate $42.6 million, which would last a maximum of 40 years. Taxpayers would cover 40 percent of the total cost for building a proposed hospital plan, totaling $88 million.

"We've all agreed both these issues are needed," Jones said.

But the council had questions.

The chief concern for School District officials was that administrators would be complacent to accept facility upgrades without improving teachers and curriculum.

"My only reservation or hesitation - and I'm personally for both these issues - but building new facilities does not fix the other problems," Councilor Rod Compton said. "We continue to have problems with staffing at schools, continue to have a number of teachers not certified teaching there, student test scores continue to be low. A new building is not going to fix any of that."

Council members Bill Johnston, Joe Herod and Ray Beck agreed with Compton's assessment.

Superintendent Pete Bergmann could not leave without addressing those criticisms, he said.

"I think if you look at the data for student achievement, I think you will see we have grown more than any other school district our size," Bergmann said.

The School District achieved 78 of 79 Annual Yearly Progress goals for the past school year, a better record than the 78 of 82 met the year before.

There are fewer goals this year because of decreasing enrollment.

The Moffat County student population has decreased every year for the past decade, Bergmann said. Colorado school districts are funded through the 1994 School Finance Act formula, which pays on a per-pupil basis.

Moffat County is the lowest-funded school district per pupil in the state, a financial burden compounded by dropping enrollment, Bergmann said.

Many times, councilors referred to the School District proposal as an infrastructure issue. The same can be said for the hospital question, Councilor Byron Willems said.

"What the community has to realize is we're going through a phase of updating all the infrastructure all over town," Willems said. "If we expect the community to grow, we have to have it. If we don't update now it'll mean more money. It's not a matter of if, it's when."

Councilors also questioned some of the figures in the hospital's proposal.

George Rohrich, TMH CEO, told the City Council some of the terms in the ballot question were potentially misleading.

The ballot reads funds from the additional tax can be used for operating costs. The hospital's lawyers required that language, he said.

"The mill levy is only for this project," Rohrich said.

Also, the 40-year period is expected to last no longer than 25 years, he added.

Despite their support, the mayor and some councilors remained unsure Moffat County voters would pass the initiatives.

Collin Smith can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 209, or cesmith@craigdailypress.com

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