Voters face 32 tax questions 

Voters in Colorado Springs and El Paso County will face a myriad of ballot questions this November -- ranging from cable franchise fees to a massive highway bond to multiple pleas for TABOR relief to electing candidates to 17 area school boards.

The question is, Will anybody show up to the polls?

In the last off-year election two years ago, just 19 percent of the county's registered voters showed up to cast ballots, at a final cost of $2.71 per vote. The assistant supervisor of county elections, Marguerite Duncan, said of 280,784 registered voters in 1997, only 54,238 turned out to vote.

County taxpayers shelled out $146,852 for the election.

"People just aren't that interested; they just don't seem to think that electing school board members is that important," Duncan said.

People tend to turn out in heavier numbers during presidential election years. This year, a total of 32 initiatives are on the ballot -- making it the heaviest load in seven years. Voters will not be asked to decide all of those questions, however. Colorado Springs voters, for example, will not vote on issues facing Manitou Springs or Calhan residents.

Voters across Colorado will approve or reject Gov. Bill Owens proposal for a $1.7 billion bond to speed up construction on 28 highway projects, which will particularly benefit the Denver Metro area.

Countywide, voters will decide whether to approve a $10 million Metro and Rural Transit Authority to improve bus service, especially in Colorado Springs.

Colorado Springs voters will be asked to approve numerous ballot questions, including a sales tax for the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, a franchise fee for cable subscribers and a measure to allow police and fire personnel to employ collective bargaining for their salaries.

The cities of Colorado Springs and Monument, as well as numerous school and special districts are seeking relief from the Taxpayers' Bill of Rights, passed by Colorado voters in 1992, that set limits on how much government agencies can tax and spend.

Not enough politicians

Five school districts have just enough candidates to fill the vacant seats. They include: Falcon District 49, Fountain District 8, Manitou Springs District 14, Lewis-Palmer District 38 and Ellicott District 22. Candidates running in other districts, including Colorado Springs D-11, are expected to run sometimes-heated campaigns.

Four of seven school-board seats are open in District 11, the area's largest district with nearly 32,000 students. Up for reelection are board President Bruce Doyle and members Lyman Kaiser and Shawn Yokum-Alford. Kent Olvey, who has been on the board four years, is not running for a second term and is instead eyeing a bid for the state Legislature.

Several challengers, however, will likely spice up the race, including Delia Armstrong-Busby and newcomer Bill Jambura. Both believe that a status quo approach has all but paralyzed education in the district. This is the third run for Armstrong-Busby, the award-winning former Mitchell High School principal who successfully sued the district several years ago after administrators tried to transfer her to another job against her wishes.

"I won't give up," Armstrong-Busby said, questioning the district's educational standards. "Why are we behind, and why can't we raise the bar of expectations higher? I'm saddened by low hopes and low outcomes."

Jambura, a real-estate agent and retired Air Force officer, is a back-to-basics candidate. It is his first bid for office.

"Bill's not happy with the way education is going today," said his wife Kathy Jambura. "We seem to be constantly asking the taxpayer to provide more funds thinking it will improve academics. We need to get back to basics."

In addition to the school-board seats, District 11 is also seeking an up to $29 million tax increase to reduce class sizes and improve school security. Earlier this month, the district announced a bonus of sorts; officials said they would improve reading scores by 15 percent if voters approve the measure.

"We feel, especially in El Paso County, voters are willing to give you more funds, but they have to know exactly what they're going to get," said district spokesman John Leavitt. "People want a guarantee that things will improve."

Financial nightmares

In District 20, which has been plagued with an unexpected financial nightmare this year, neither of two incumbents is running for re-election. School board members Ken Balser and Dr. William Skeith did not return telephone calls seeking comment on their decisions not to run for second four-year terms. Seven others are running to fill the two open slots.

Earlier this year, D-20 announced that it had run through its cash reserves and was forced to cut programs and freeze salaries. The district's superintendent and finance director also resigned.

Now, D-20 is seeking a $12.8 million tax increase to raise money to reinstate student programs and unfreeze employee salaries. But it's unclear whether a critical public will approve the measure in the wake of this year's financial debacle.

"To be honest with you, we're cleaning up a lot of the problems policy- and procedure-wise," said Assistant Superintendent Ken Vedra, who is new to the district. "If the public is feeling we're doing a good job, then they'll approve this."

And if they don't? Vedra said that the consequence, if the tax increase fails to pass, will likely be additional cuts in programs and increased class sizes.

"The board is going to have to make some tough decisions in 2000-2001," he said.


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