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Backers pitching Colorado Springs School District 11 tax hike with incentive

October 28, 2016 Updated: October 28, 2016 at 9:48 pm

Supporters of a $32.6 million property tax increase that nearly 132,000 voters in Colorado Springs' largest school district are being asked to approve Nov. 8 are offering a carrot: letting homeowners work off the extra expense.

For homeowners who foresee a financial hardship if the proposed mill levy override passes, Colorado Springs School District 11 intends to allow residents to serve as teachers' aides, tutors or in other roles in schools to earn the money needed to cover the tax hike.

"It's an interesting idea," said Jan Rennie, a former teacher and counselor who now volunteers on various D-11 committees and in classrooms. "But I'm not sure if people would take advantage of it or if it would be more work than it's worth."

D-11 would use the mill levy override revenue to add more staff to reduce class sizes and improve safety; boost salaries; improve technology; repair buildings; and enhance charter school funding. Property tax revenue, capped at $15 million next year, would gradually increase to a maximum of $32.6 million in 2024.

The initial projected cost for the average homeowner is about $10 per month for every $200,000 of assessed value, the average in the district. An override of the mill levy has to be approved by voters under Colorado's Taxpayer's Bill of Rights restrictions.

Under the preliminary plan, participants would have to pass a background check, the same as all district employees. Who would qualify for a "financial hardship" has yet to be determined.

Glenn Gustafson, deputy superintendent and chief financial officer, thought of the idea, based on similar programs other school districts have tried.

The program would provide a third way for homeowners to decrease property tax costs, he said.

It's estimated that 80 percent of homeowners in D-11 boundaries don't have school-age children. Some older residents take advantage of the Colorado Senior Tax Exemption program, which basically cuts in half property taxes for homeowners 65 and over who have lived in their homes 10 years or more.

Homeowners who itemize deductions also can reduce the increase by 25 percent to 30 percent each year.

"That's a lot of people for whom $120 is suddenly now $90," Gustafson said.

And some residents may be interested in the proposed program, which would work something like this. For working 10 to 15 hours a year at their neighborhood school, residents would earn enough extra money to defray the increase in property taxes.

"We're not playing any games - we realize it's a tax increase, and one that might be hard for some people," Gustafson said.

"We're not allowed by law to rebate property taxes to anybody or any company, but we could hire people who could prove a financial hardship to work in schools and pay them presumably in the neighborhood of $10 per hour and cap the hours they could work. It would be enough to offset the additional property taxes."

The details of such a plan haven't been worked out - that would happen if the property tax hike passes. The plan also would have to be finalized and approved by D-11's Board of Education.

Board President LuAnn Long is pitching it to everyone she talks to.

"They think it's pretty awesome for people who can't afford more property taxes," Long said. "We're getting good response. It would be a win-win for everyone."

Rennie said she personally would not use the program but could see how some might be interested.

"I don't need the subsidy but it's a good idea for people who may need it," she said. "They'd have to be capable of doing the work, though."

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