Steamboat City Council wants to explore possibility of using lodging tax to fund more than trails
May 22, 2013
Steamboat Springs — The Steamboat Springs Trails Alliance’s yearlong quest to secure most of the lodging tax revenue to build new hiking and biking trails here grew more complicated and uncertain Tuesday night in Centennial Hall.
In a meeting where nearly every seat in the hall was taken by a community member eager to weigh in on the future of the tax, the Steamboat Springs City Council was torn about the lodging tax committee’s recommendation to devote 90 percent of the tax to the Trails Alliance for the next decade.
The council’s lengthy discussion on the future of the tax came after lodging tax committee Chairman Larry Mashaw told the council his six-member committee concluded after a rigorous and thorough vetting process that the trails plan has the greatest potential to draw more visitors to town and benefit the lodging community.
But a majority of the council wasn’t ready to accept that conclusion, and instead brought the Yampa River promenade, the committee’s apparent second choice for the dollars, back in contention.
“I think we can a la carte these,” Councilman Walter Magill said about the leading three proposals for the tax that also included improvements to the amenities at Howelsen Hill.
Two council members said they were ready to go full speed ahead on the hiking and biking trails, and Magill and two others advocated for finding a way to share the dollars with other leading proposals.
Council President Bart Kounovsky represented the middle ground, saying that he wasn’t ready to make a decision on the recommendation but that he was open to looking into dedicating it to the trails and Yampa projects.
Councilwoman Sonja Macys, the executive director of Yampatika, stepped down from the lodging tax discussion after citing a potential conflict of interest because of her nonprofit’s partnership with the Trails Alliance.
In the end — and after more than an hour of public comment that had proponents of multiple tax proposals lobby the council in what is now the 11th hour of the vetting process — the six council members voted unanimously to have the lodging tax committee meet again to further explore how the tax revenue might be used to support both the trails projects and the revitalization effort on Yampa Street.
The council also said it would like to resolve unanswered questions surrounding the proposals.
For the trails, a shared council concern was the construction of trails outside of city limits and the uncertain time frame that is dependent on approval for the U.S. Forest Service.
For the Yampa River park, council members wanted city staff to look into other potential funding sources that could leverage lodging tax dollars.
The council’s vote Tuesday night effectively extended the vetting process to July, when the committee will come back to council.
It also raises the possibility the council ultimately might not follow the final recommendation of the lodging tax committee.
"I’m still just convinced that there are great synergies between the trails projects and the Yampa River” promenade, Councilwoman Cari Hermacinski said before she introduced the motion to keep the downtown proposal in contention for the tax dollars.
Hermacinski served on the lodging tax committee along with Councilman Kenny Reisman, who from the start of the vetting process has been against splitting the tax among multiple projects.
"My goal from the start of this wasn’t to appease as many groups as possible," Reisman said. "My desire was to really do something significant to move the dial on our lodging numbers while at the same time committing that other elements of the ballot language are adhered to."
Like Reisman, Councilman Scott Myller said he supports the lodging tax’s recommendation despite interest in the other finalists.
Kevin Kaminski joined council member Magill and Hermacinski in advocating for a possible split in the revenue to support more than one amenity.
The council’s debate over whether to go big on one project or split it among enticing proposals mirrors their lodging tax committee’s own grappling over the same question.
For much of the committee's final meeting, the group was split evenly between funding the trails projects and a Yampa River promenade or going all in on the trails project.
But in the end, a majority of the committee decided it would be better to fully invest in the trails instead of potentially diluting the tax revenue's impact by splitting it among multiple projects.
The debate that played out over several hours in lodging tax committee meetings was cited by council members who said they’d like to find a way to split the revenue.
A good problem
Acknowledging the large contingent of cyclists, downtown stakeholders and arts and entertainment leaders in the audience who are competing for the tax dollars, Councilman Kaminski said the debate about how to spend the money still was a good problem for the city to have.
"Whatever decision we make is going to be wrong," he said to laughter. "In this game, once again, not everyone can win. We don’t have all the dollars we need to make everyone happy."
He added that he expects he and other council members will continue receiving many phone calls in the coming days from proponents of all the proposals for the tax money.
During public comment, 27 community members, many of them business leaders as well as cycling and running advocates, weighed in on the final recommendation.
After the council’s vote came, many spilled out into the common area to digest the council’s discussion.
"We’re happy to see (our proposal) back in the discussion," Chris Paoli, of Colorado Group Realty, said about the Yampa Street proposal. "There were a pretty good number of people here tonight who thought this tax could be shared."
Eric Meyer, a founder of the Trails Alliance, said he continues to believe the group’s project should receive the recommended 90 percent of the funding.
"This is the right funding source for the right project," Meyer said. "The fact that this (revenue) still is a possibility for us is amazing."
To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com