NOL: Is a tax increase to Rossland for K-12 fair?

Neighbourhood of Learning talks about the value that K-12 education brings to a community.

Contributed by the Neighbourhood of Learning Committee

The Rossland Neighbourhood of Learning committee would like to remind all residents about tonight’s Public Meeting at 7 pm in the RSS Gymnasium. Please come out and learn about options and alternatives for K-12 education in Rossland.

The content in this article was generously supplied by NOL Committee Member, Aaron Cosbey.

Some might argue that imposing any tax increase to keep K-12 in Rossland is unfair. The argument goes that the tax increase would hit everyone, including those that don’t have children in school, and so would benefit only a few at the expense of the many.

This argument ignores the significant economic benefits to the town of Rossland as a whole from keeping K-12 here, and the costs of not doing so, such as:

· Maintenance of current residents: In the Rossland Schools Survey, 13 per cent of parents said they’d move from Rossland if RSS were closed, and 45 per cent said they’d consider moving. While those numbers should probably be discounted, they should not be discounted to zero. Whether we like it or not, some families will go elsewhere if they have to bus their kids to Trail for grades 10 – 12. Indeed, we know of families inquiring about putting their houses on the market after SD20’s first reading. In a city where many businesses are operating at razor-thin margins, and the tax burden of supporting city services falls almost entirely on the existing residents, any loss of population is an economic loss to the entire town. It pushes us toward a downward spiral that means fewer businesses and higher taxes for the remaining residents.

· Attraction of future residents: Arguably even more important is the ability of a town with K-12 to attract future residents who are deciding between various options (e.g., Fernie, Revelstoke, Nelson, Kimberly, Golden, Canmore) for their location. Much of the growth in Rossland’s population in the last decade has come from such people, and almost to a person they list the availability of K-12 in the city as one of the items on their checklists. At the Planning for the Future meetings we heard oral evidence from a number of parents to this effect, and from some that were waiting for the results of the consultation to actually complete their move here. We know of several families who are waiting to see what SD20 decides before moving here. If the natural decline of the city’s population does not continue to be offset by immigration of new residents, the final result is economic decline.

· Loss of spending from International and Academy students: International and Academy students temporarily increase the population of City while they stay in Rossland. Each student injects $700 per month in home stay fees into the local economy, which then has multiplier impacts. Perhaps even more important than this direct spending is spending by their parents when they visit, which they typically do for some extended period every year. These are people who can afford to spend money in town while they’re here, and they typically stay in hotels, eat in restaurants, buy ski gear and ski passes. A conservative estimate of the contribution of each International student to the local economy is $25,000-35,000 per year (this includes fees). The loss of K-12 in Rossland would also mean the loss of the Academy and International programs, and the loss of these contributions.

· The absent 10–12s: Three grades of Rossland students would be spending their lunch money in Trail, and would not be doing after-school shopping in downtown Rossland. They would also be unavailable to act, as many now do, as after-school child care providers for the younger grades; by the time they got back up the hill it would be too late to pick up their charges. Nor would they be able to fill part-time jobs with local businesses, as many now do. This means a loss of disposable income for them to spend in Rossland. Added to this would be the loss to Rossland merchants associated with parents driving down the hill to pick up kids on a more regular basis, and doing their shopping and eating out while down there.

· Loss of value of housing stock: This would happen in two ways. First, the net decrease in residents would mean less demand for housing and more supply, equating to a drop in prices. Second, the price of any given house reflects not only the house itself, but also the amenities in the immediate surrounding area, and K-12 schooling is widely acknowledged to be an important amenity. This loss of value would not be reflected in lower taxes; since it would be across the board it would just mean a higher mil rate. But it would mean a loss of equity for all of Rossland’s citizens. Even a miniscule 1% drop in value would mean a loss of $2,650 equity for the average homeowner. Assuming a $50/year tax increase to support K-12 in Rossland, this alone would be worth 53 years of support.

· Dynamic effects: Taken together, the effects described above have dynamic impacts. For example, existing and potential residents of Rossland can be deterred not just by a lack of K-12, but also by the decline in population and the economic decline that they see taking place. So the impacts of the loss of K-12 will create their own further impacts, in an economically damaging negative spiral.

Note that these arguments are only those that apply to Rossland’s citizens as a whole. There are other clear benefits of K-12 for Rosslanders with families of school age – a significant portion of the tax-paying population. The case we’re making here is that even beyond those benefits there are solid reasons for Rossland taxpayers to support efforts to keep K-12 in Rossland