Preliminary economic study sparks discussion

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— Two Colorado State University professors met with 11 city, county and chamber officials Thursday morning to discuss the preliminary findings of a study they are conducting about the economies of Steamboat Springs and Routt County.
While the officials present decided that the figures need to be retooled, issues such as the economic impacts of tourism and the increase in second-homes for non-residents sparked a good deal of debate.
The meeting will be followed by another few weeks of numbers-crunching before the consultants, Harvey Cutler and Stephen Davies, can present the figures that city and county officials need to make any policy decisions.
Cutler and Davies were hired about three months ago by the city, the county and the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association to analyze the status of city and county finances and to make recommendations about how best to manage the future economies of the two. They have worked on similar projects for cities like Fort Collins and Loveland, although this will be the first ski resort they have taken on.
The preliminary meeting focused on analyzing the flow of business in Routt County over the past year, paying particular attention to the impact of tourism and growth on the community. Neither the officials nor the consultants, for instance, could figure out whether or not second homebuyers were a positive influence on the city's economy.
The consultants questioned whether or not second homeowners actually contribute a significant percentage of sales tax revenues. They will attempt to assess such variables by the time they come out with their next report, which should come in three to five weeks.
City Councilwoman Arianthtettner brought up the impact of Baby Boomers on the second-home market, saying they will cause it to grow even further in the next decade, she said.
"This is just the tip of the iceberg," she said.
Other officials, such as Sandy Evans-Hall from the chamber, called for more research on exactly how many people come to Steamboat during the ski season. At present, the consultants are using skier days to determine winter tourism numbers. However, not everyone who comes to Steamboat Springs in the winter skis, said City Councilwoman Kathy Connell.
"At least in the winter we have skier day figures. In the summer, we don't even have that," Evans Hall said.
Of particular interest to city officials is the impact of current tax structures on people and businesses with different income levels in Steamboat Springs. City Manager Paul Hughes seemed especially concerned about the status of Steamboat's sole reliance on sales tax to fund the city.
"Twenty years ago, the city made the decision to eliminate the property tax and use sales tax because that's where the money was," he said. "Twenty years, later, we suspect that the money is in different places."
Hughes voiced the concern that the sales tax had ceased to be a truly progressive tax, charging poorer residents just as much as wealthy tourists.

To reach Avi Salzman call 871-4203 or e-mail asalzman@amigo.net

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