Consultants on Tuesday said Durango School District 9-R will have to make deep cuts unless voters agree to a
We have a value judgment. You either go for more revenue from your taxpayers, or you make these cuts," said Daniel
O'Connell, director of municipal finance and markets at RBC Capital Markets in Denver.
District 9-R is facing more than $2 million in state budget cuts, potentially poking a hole in the district's $40
million operating budget. The state is expected to cut the district's per-pupil operating revenue - a crucial source of
funding - by 6.5 percent.
Superintendent Keith Owen said 9-R and its taxpayers will have to decide how much they value small class sizes and
competitive teachers' salaries.
If we make a decision and decide not to do this - and that's really the board's prerogative - we're going to start
impacting some of the values the community talked about," Owen said.
The meeting came after a 9-R forum Jan. 12, when community members encouraged the district to seek additional
District 9-R cut 16 teaching positions at Durango High School and made some administrative cuts last spring to
compensate for lower enrollment. Now, the cloudy state budget forecast threatens to worsen the situation.
School board member Padraig Paddy" Lynch questioned the wisdom of increasing taxes, calling the consultants'
presentation a sales pitch."
I'd like to hear the other side of the argument," he said.
According to the consultants' calculations, 9-R could ask voters for up to $2.65 million more annually. That translates
to an additional $53 per year for the owner of a $400,000 home. Such a homeowner would pay $541 to 9-R, up from
Rudy Andras, RBC vice president and economist, said 9-R's property tax burden has been essentially flat since 1996
despite rising property values. That year, the owner of a $150,000 home - typical at the time - paid $489 in 9-R
The steadiness stems largely from huge tax revenues from the gas and oil industry. That could be changing, Andras
Your tax base is not going to remain at a sizable $2.1 billion," he said. Gas is a billion dollars."
The assessed value of gas and oil industry property in La Plata County could drop 60 percent when figures are released
in August, driven by lower natural-gas prices and a resulting production decline, he said.
The seven-member school board has the final say on whether to pursue a property-tax increase, often called a mill-levy
override," in the form of a November ballot measure. Lurking in the background is fear that voters may not want to
raise their taxes during an economic downturn.
In 2005, voters narrowly rejected a 9-R ballot measure to raise $550,000 annually to offset transportation costs.
In 2002, 9-R voters approved an $84.5 million bond issue with 62 percent of the vote, and a $2.4 million tax increase
with 65 percent of the vote.
Statewide, voters have approved 59 percent of school tax measures since 1993, the consultants said.
School board member Joe Colgan said that while he is not advocating a ballot measure for now, the district faces tough
times without one.
It would be great if we could find some inefficiencies within the district," said Colgan, a retired Fort Lewis College
accounting professor. Good luck with that, because we already made a bunch of cuts last year. It's going to be a time
of reckoning for this school district and every school district."