Results from a phone survey asking city and county residents if they support an increase in sales taxes to fund local schools shows that a majority of respondents support the Aspen Education Foundation’s push for a ballot measure this fall.
In the city of Aspen, 59.28 percent of respondents support a .35 percent increase. In Pitkin County, 57.80 percent of respondents favor a sales tax increase of .25 percent, according to the foundation, a nonprofit fundraising arm for the Aspen School District.
The telephone poll was conducted the last week of June, and asked a total of 540 people their opinions on a tax increase; 380 of them were residents of the county and 160 were Aspen voters, said Robin Hamill, president of AEF.
While it’s not an overwhelming majority in support of a tax increase, Hamill said the results show that the community values education and the school district, and should serve as further proof to elected officials that the proposal should go to voters.
AEF representatives and school district officials went before Aspen City Council last month, asking it to place on the November ballot a sales tax increase question that would generate roughly $1.75 million annually, if voters approve.
While Aspen council members directed city attorney Jim True to draft ballot language, they expressed reservations on a city sales tax hike because it won’t be an equitable burden if it’s not applied across the entire county.
The council asked Hamill to go back to the county and ask for support. Hamill said at the time that he wanted to see what the poll produced before making a formal appearance before the board of county commissioners.
He also told council that he didn’t think there was support from the county’s elected officials based on a conversation he had with Commissioner George Newman, who is opposed to the idea. Now armed with poll results showing a majority of county voters supporting a tax hike, Hamill said the AEF and school district officials will appeal to the commissioners.
“Next is that we will report back to the City Council,” he said, adding that a meeting also will be scheduled with the county board. “I guess we’d like to see reaction from the [county commissioners].”
Support for the sales tax increase to sunset after four years polled at 56.29 percent at the city level and 57.36 percent at the county, Hamill said.
The Aspen School District has cut $2.4 million from its budget in the last three years, due largely to state funding cuts. As those cuts are expected to continue, the district is facing annual budget shortfalls of several hundred thousand dollars for years to come. Cutting teachers and programs will be necessary, school officials have warned, if funding continues to fall.
Hamill said the roughly $1.75 million raised annually by the tax increase will cover that shortfall and reinstate programs that have been cut. In the phone survey, the county’s percentage was lower than what it would be in the city because countywide sales would capture sales in a broader area, Hamill said, reaching the $1.75 million mark.
The poll was conducted by an independent polling firm, which Hamill declined to identify. He noted that the expense of the poll was covered by an anonymous donor.
The number of people reached in the phone survey is reflective of what the AEF had to spend on it. The firm recommended the amount of people reached to derive a statistical validation of the responses, with a 5 percent margin of error, Hamill said. He noted that the survey reached various demographics. He said he didn’t know whether the poll surveyed only people with land lines or included those with cell phones.
AEF and school officials say that the passage of this initiative is essential in helping the district achieve its goals of maintaining existing programming, retaining and attracting quality teachers and staff, and staying competitive nationally in such areas as technology, facilities and college counseling.
“We are very gratified by these poll results because they demonstrate the community’s strong support for our children’s education in the district — support which crosses age, gender and political lines, and comes from both those who have students in school today and those who do not,” Hamill said in a statement. “There is no more important investment we can make in our future than the one we make in our children’s education, and we are very pleased to see our community coming together on this important initiative. We are hopeful this initiative will appear on November’s ballot, and that support for the measure will continue to grow as we approach the election.”